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Friday, Oct. 24, 2014

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University expands travel database, services

From the May 18, 2009, Princeton Weekly Bulletin

The University has expanded its travel website to provide planning and emergency resources for faculty and staff members traveling in the United States and abroad.

An integral part of the website is the travel database, which provides country-specific information about medical issues and travel warnings, and helps disseminate travel information to facilitate communication and assistance in emergencies.

The University's travel database was introduced in 2007 for undergraduate students. Upgrades to provide tools for faculty, staff and graduate students have been introduced in recent months as part of Princeton's efforts to enhance travel resources, which also includes providing access to emergency services for overseas travelers on University-sponsored trips through an organization called International SOS.

"We want all University travelers to know that these resources are available," said Amy Campbell, the director of campus life initiatives in the Office of the Vice President for Campus Life. Campbell oversees the University's travel website and database along with Diana Davies, associate provost for international initiatives. Their offices are among several across campus that provide support, information, funding help and program planning guidance for University travelers.

Undergraduate students have been required to use the travel database for the last two years, and hundreds of University-sponsored trips have been registered (see "By the numbers" in the May 18 Princeton Weekly Bulletin). The database has simplified the process of registering undergraduate travel with campus offices and has reduced paperwork. Faculty, staff and graduate students are encouraged to use the database for University-sponsored travel, but it is not required.

Travelers are asked to enter detailed itineraries and emergency contact information in the database. In the case of a natural disaster, political upheaval or another type of emergency situation, Princeton administrators are in a better position to know travelers' whereabouts. Only members of the University community can enter information into the database, and only database administrators or other designated staff members can access the trip information.

"In an emergency we know we can move quickly to identify travelers and if needed, contact International SOS," Campbell said. "This information used to be on paper in a drawer. Now it's accessible 24/7."

One way the database helps travelers is by automatically notifying them of travel warnings. If, for example, an undergraduate enters a trip to Cuba in the database, a warning will inform him or her of restrictions on travel to that country by the U.S. government. A trip to Afghanistan will garner a notice about the country being on the U.S. State Department's travel warning list. The site also tells travelers about issues regarding export control, alerting them, for example, that a country they are visiting has outlawed encryption software, which is typically installed on University computers. The database also informs travelers of immunizations required for travel to certain countries.

Recently, the database was used to notify students who had traveled to China that there had been an outbreak of bird flu during the time they spent there.

"It's very helpful to have a record of where people were traveling, because health warnings are often issued after travel is completed," Campbell said.

When a powerful earthquake struck Peru in 2007, administrators turned to the database and learned that several students were in the country, but by checking their itineraries they ascertained that the students were far from the earthquake site. The administrators contacted the students, made sure they knew about the disaster and asked them to check in with the University.

Another feature of the database allows a traveler to give other people permission to access itineraries and emergency contact information, so a staff member going on a trip has an easy tool for notifying colleagues of travel plans. Travel information can be entered by staff members on behalf of a faculty member or administrator. And trip information can be updated at any time if plans change.

The site also offers a medical profile document that the University recommends travelers complete and print out to take with them on their trip.

International SOS services

As an additional safety measure, the University provides travelers with access to the services of International SOS, a firm with which the University has contracted since 2004 to provide emergency services on overseas trips.

International SOS provided invaluable help to Bryan Just, the Peter Jay Sharp curator at the Princeton University Art Museum and Lecturer in the Art of the Ancient Americas and a lecturer in art and archaeology, when he organized a trip in March for students taking his course on "Art and Politics of the Maya Courts." The seven-day tour of Chiapas, Mexico, was a pivotal component of the course, offering the eight undergraduates in the class a chance to visualize and understand how Mayan monumental art functioned within architectural contexts.

When some parents expressed concern about a travel alert that had been posted for Mexico by the U.S. State Department, Just asked International SOS for detailed information about the safety of the region the students planned to visit.

"A specialist for that particular part of the world contacted me, and I provided him with our detailed itinerary," Just said. The specialist wrote a report that outlined International SOS's recommendations for the trip, which included analysis of each neighborhood the group planned to visit.

"The report proved essential for comforting a number of parents, and we didn't run into any emergency situations on the trip," Just said. "International SOS was an amazing resource."

International SOS provides assistance to travelers who have lost a passport, missed a flight or need to find a doctor. It also helps people in dangerous situations. The organization evacuated two Princeton students from Beirut in 2006 when Israeli forces launched attacks against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The services of International SOS are available to students, faculty, staff members, alumni, trustees and family members who are on University-sponsored trips. Members of the University community, including the families of students and staff members, can access up-to-date International SOS travel advisories.

More information about how to contact International SOS and about the travel database is available online.

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