Although an effort to consolidate travel planning resources for Columbia students and faculty and ensure that the proper resources are in place in case of an overseas emergency has been underway since 2009, the planning behind the new policy has been in development since only last year.
By mandating registration, the University will be informed of travellers' itineraries, including flight and hotel reservations, so that the University can connect students and faculty abroad to supportive and emergency resources. Registration will also facilitate contact in the event of an emergency, such as a natural disaster, terrorist attack, or other emergency situations.
This announcement comes after a recent tragedy in Honduras demonstrated the need for a robust and reliable contingency plan for international emergencies.
The policy serves as the culmination of the work of the International Administrative Working Group, which includes representatives from every school of the University and senior personnel from the University's global programs and institutions, including the global centers. Its primary goal is to track international travel and connect Columbia affiliates with support and emergency resources.
Although the policy requires that students and trip organizers register any Columbia-related international travel with the University, it does not require professors or postdoctoral fellows travelling without students to register trips overseas.
"We don't put a lot of requirements on the faculty," Gail Hoffman, University treasurer and IAWG member, said. "It is a strong message that we recommend, that there's value in the services."
The registration and travel resources are now all consolidated into a single website, meant to help streamline trip planning and ensure exposure to all the resources available through Columbia.
The policy also leaves room for the University to post its own travel advisories and bans, supplementing those released by the Department of State, according to Hoffman.
In addition, the University contracts International SOS, a group that consults organizations on travel plans and provides infrastructure abroad for support and evacuations. Part of the registration and planning process involves taking advantage of their resources to prepare for the trip and the possibility of an emergency.
"The more proactive we are about communicating the benefits of ISOS to people, especially in this planning and risk assessment mode, the more people are going to reach out to them," Hoffman said.
Hoffman said that the new policy will also allow the University to better analyze how it supports international travel for students.
"Registration is an enabler," Hoffman said. "It provides us with a much greater ability to deliver service and, on a more over time basis, it allows us to track … how many people go where in the world, what time of year and from what school or program, and identify gaps in the support that we might be providing centrally." ?