In a March 18 letter addressed to all members of the Tufts community, the Office of the Provost and Senior Vice President announced the key details of a new International Travel Safety Policy, which is effective immediately.
The policy is meant to present a structure for fostering safe international travel, and it outlines two new procedures that have been set in place to advance the goals of the university as an institution informed by a global perspective. These include the establishment of a university-wide online Travel Registry, for which registration is mandatory for all students and staff embarking on university-related travel and a Travel Review process for students who intend to visit countries that have been issued U.S. Department of State Travel Warnings.
According to Provost and Senior Vice President David Harris, international travel has played an integral role in the Tufts community, and as the university’s global presence has expanded in recent years, the policies on international travel to protect students and staff abroad have simultaneously grown.
“In 2011, an International Business and Travel Committee and Student Safety Committee identified some of the challenges we face internationally and made recommendations to improve our operations,” Harris said. “Included in those recommendations were the hiring of a full-time employee responsible for international travel matters and the creation of a central registration process for all travelers.”
He explained that the committee, which was comprised of several faculty and staff members, particularly representatives from Risk Management and Tufts Technology Services, recommended that a university-wide, uniform system of protocol be developed and put in place and that an online interface be created to provide the necessary tools for an efficient emergency response in light of crises abroad.
“As part of this process, the university issued an RFP [request for proposal] and reviewed options for an online travel registry,” Harris said. “We chose the Terra Dotta software solution, which is also used by many of our peers.”
He added that in 2013, the university hired Claudia Jackson for the new role of program manager for international safety and operations.
Harris explained that a task force was formed to transform committee recommendations into concrete procedures, which he emphasized was a collaborative process that transcended schools and departments to ultimately form one university-wide system.
As Program Manager for International Safety and Operations, Jackson explained that the sole goal of the policy is to promote the safety of students who are preparing to travel internationally, and she believes that the Travel Registry will make great strides in doing so.
“The Tufts Travel Registry is an integral part in promoting the overall safety of Tufts travelers,” Jackson said. “The trip date and location are automatically provided to the Tufts’ emergency assistance provider, International SOS, so that travelers receive information such as travel alerts and advisories.”
She concluded that the most important capability of the new system is its ability to locate and contact travelers in case of emergency by having travelers’ key information on record.
The community-wide letter detailed that students will have the ability to store passport information through the registry, which can be accessed in case it is stolen while abroad. The letter assured members of the Tufts community that only users with specific authorization will have the ability to view their personal information and that data collected will be expunged regularly to further safeguard student information.
Jackson said the registration process for the travel registry is simple and is done through students’ Tufts usernames and passwords.
“Registering only takes a few minutes — you do not need to set up an account, you simply sign in with your Tufts UTNL and password and start entering your trip and contact information,” Jackson said. “Registering your research trips and other Tufts-related international travel will ensure that all essential pre-travel information has been shared with you and you are aware of the resources available to you when you travel.”
The letter additionally underscored that students who hope to travel to countries with U.S. State Department Travel Warnings will have to provide supplementary information to the Tufts Review Committee for International Travel Safety, prior to their trips to ensure that their plans are practical from a security standpoint.
Numerous students, such as sophomore Grant Fox, have expressed a lack of familiarity with the changes in policy, mainly because it will only impact their travel in part, or tangentially.
“[I] wasn’t aware of this policy mostly because I’m planning on going to France, which is pretty basic and regular,” Fox said. “A registry of everyone who’s abroad sounds pretty simple and reasonable. They’re still Tufts’ students, [so] it makes sense to know where in the world they are.”
Fox expressed concern, however, about the panel review for students, explaining that he worries the extra measure might be excessive, and he hopes that the policy will not discourage students from pursuing travel plans to those areas of the world.
“The panel review for students going to State Department-watched countries is a little dicier, but it depends on how it’s implemented,” Fox said. “Most of those countries are safe as long as you have a plan and know what you’re doing … If the school is just doing this check up on you to make sure you have a plan and are prepared then it’s a good idea. If they’re using it to discourage travel to these places, then there’s a problem.”
At the same time, Jackson emphasized that the all-encompassing, standardized manner of approaching travel will allow Tufts to better provide for the safety of its students and staff, even when they are not physically on campus.
“I know that this system will enable the university to better coordinate an emergency response, which is critical given that a large percentage of the Tufts community members travel internationally during their time at the university,” Jackson said. “Additionally, it empowers travelers through pre-trip advisories as well as an overview of Tufts resources available during travel.”