Students, faculty abroad now required to register travel plans

Global Activities Registry played pivotal role after Japan quake

· May 12, 2011, 6:29 pm   ·  Updated May 12, 2011, 12:00 am

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Students and faculty embarking on Penn-affiliated trips are now required to register their travel information with the Global Activities Registry, a database of Penn’s global travels.

Due to the pivotal role the registry played in locating Penn students and faculty during the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March, the Office of International Programs and the Office of Risk Management has made the registry mandatory for all students, faculty and staff traveling abroad.

Students and faculty must enter their travel itinerary, emergency contact information and other details about their trips into the registry, which is free of charge. They can also view an interactive map which displays Penn trips and programs abroad at any given time.

The registry is Penn’s central resource collecting the activities of faculty, staff and students traveling abroad on academic, research or University business purposes. It was launched as an optional service last September by the Information and Systems Computing department, OIP and the Office of Risk Management.

The GAR is synced with travel security provider International SOS, which provides immunization and other pre-departure information to travelers. In times of crisis, it provides evacuation services, real-time updates and information about hospitals and clinics in the area.

OIP Outreach Coordinator Veronika Simon called the GAR’s role in accounting for students when disaster struck in Japan “quite remarkable.”

Penn was able to use the GAR and International SOS to determine how many students and faculty — across all schools — were in Japan at the time, contact them and to assure their safety.

The GAR was especially useful because it “captured all the information in one central location,” Simon said.

International SOS also helped students evacuate the disaster area.

For example, a student was stuck in a town close to the earthquake’s epicenter in northeastern Japan, unable to take a train out of the area. International SOS provided a driver to pick him up and take him out of the dangerous region, Simon said.

Partnerships for International Research and Education: Mongolia, a project of the Biology department at Penn, conducts research on global climate change in northern Mongolia. Project coordinator Daniel Brickley said the GAR has been helpful and easy to use.

His program is based in “a very remote and isolated area,” Brickley said. “I like the way the GAR helps me synthesize everyone’s emergency contact information. I’m also comforted by the fact that even if I am in the field or away from my office, multiple people at Penn will have the information necessary to help our participants.”

Director of Penn Study Abroad Barbara Gorka urges students studying abroad to update their travel plans frequently throughout the semester.

“Your study-abroad city becomes your new home base, but when you travel on weekends, especially to new countries or regions, you lose some of the support network available through your program or host university. This is where the GAR can help,” she said.

Gorka added that the GAR is not meant to “control student activity,” but rather help Penn be prepared in the event of “local, national or global emergencies.”

Since the system was launched less than a year ago, developers are still looking to improve it through implementing better search features and making the GAR compatible with mobile devices.

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