Preparing for the Worst-Case Scenarios

Despite all of your efforts to reduce exposure to risks and to avoid threats, there is a chance you may still become the victim of a crime or critical event, just as it could in the U.S.  It is important to try to avoid problems, but also to be prepared to respond if a problem does occur. In the past ten years, there have been students who have fell victim to various safety problems, from pick-pocketing to violent crime, from flooding to earthquakes, to mental health challenges.  It is important to be prepared to respond to challenges abroad.

The U.S. Department of State provides assistance for Americans abroad who are victims of crime. The Crime Overseas website  lets you know who to contact in this crisis, the importance about understanding your reaction to the crime, and more resources for victims. The Department of State also recommends to:

  • Monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page and the home page for the U.S. Embassy in the foreign country for up-to-date information about the crisis.
  • If a crisis occurs in a country you are visiting, contact your family in the United States to reassure them of your whereabouts and safety.
  • Contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate if you need help.
  • Be sure to register with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate on-line, by phone, email, fax or in person. Registration helps consular staff contact you if necessary and allows you to receive situation updates.
  • Monitor Voice of America and BBC broadcasts for announcements.

(Taken from the State Department’s Crisis Abroad site Involving American Citizens)

The SAFETI Clearinghouse states that “One way that institutions could better inform students is by having a better idea of the incidents of crime and violence abroad against their students by asking about it in evaluations. Pre-departure and on-site orientations should provide information regarding the safety of the country/region the students are going to. If the possibility of political violence exists, students should be advised on how to minimize risks and avoid dangers so they do not become targets of political violence.” More sample forms and links to other resources are available at

The Study Abroad Student Handbook Crisis Management page lists information on how to better cope during a crisis. Being able to deal well with a crisis situation includes understanding your emotions, keeping yourself as safe as possible. The Emergency Card has you list important contact numbers and personal information to leave with emergency contact. The Personal Emergency Action Plan helps you create a strategy-planning device in case of an emergency. The Emergency Action Plan Steps includes a list of suggested documents and items to help you respond more effectively during an emergency.

There have been a small number of students who have been victims of terrorism and highjacking while abroad.  Kidnapping is a growing concern in certain parts of the world, so if it is an issue in the country where you are studying, it is important to know about the risks, avoid them if possible, and know how to react if a worst-case scenario like that occurs.

Terrorism, Highjacking, and Kidnapping

In the SAFETI Online Newsletter Michael O’Neill, former head of Safety for the U.S. Peace Corps and Current Director of Safety for Save the Children, states that “Each individual can develop effective strategies to reduce exposure to these risks and have an enjoyable, productive and safe experience. However, “As an American/Westerner, there is a small chance you may be targeted for kidnapping. Those who perpetrate these crimes are usually either promoting a political agenda and/or seeking to gain a financial or political dividend. Travelers are highly advised to be aware whether there is a history or risk (known threats, targeting) of kidnappings in places they intend to travel and take necessary precautions. Because hostage situations vary greatly, the following considerations should be applied based on one’s best judgment at the time.”  Visit the site to learn about policies and tips on what to do if a hijacking or kidnapping occurs.

(Personal Safety Overseas: Safety Tips for Overseas Travel, An Update. October 2001 Update, By Michael O’Neill – Coordinator for Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security, United States Peace Corps)

The Homeland Security National Terror Alert states that “Hijacking is extremely rare, but it does happen. It is well to consider how you should react if you end up being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” This website lists guidance focusing on avoiding violence and achieving a peaceful resolution to a hijacking.”