Safety planning for international school trips

School teacher

Events like the recent attack on civilians celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France, have brought the issue of travel safety to the fore for many schools and colleges planning international trips. 

So in this RiskED article, we look at how you can improve your risk management planning to better protect your staff and students. 

There are risks present every time students leave your school grounds, whether it’s to visit the local art gallery or tour Europe. But there are also great learning experiences to be had. It’s your job is to determine where the benefits outweigh the risks, and to decide if you can manage those risks to an acceptable level.

For those schools and colleges that do decide to travel internationally, regardless of the level of risk, perceived or otherwise, you must make safety planning a priority. With thorough planning practices in place you can help make your trips as educational and fulfilling as possible.

Words from the wise

Throughout our RiskED series, we’re calling on various specialists to share their knowledge on particular areas of risk management. For this article, we’ve enlisted the help of Bill Bestic, Senior Consultant for international consultancy, Terra Firma Risk Management.

With extensive experience in crisis response training, complex risk assessments, and secure operations in dangerous environments, Terra Firma provides advice and support to businesses, private individuals, governments and aid organisations worldwide. 

In fact, Terra Firma was recently engaged by CCI to provide security and safety advice to Australia’s World Youth Day pilgrim leaders before they headed to Poland. 

“When travelling with students, leaders need to be highly organised and vigilant. They also need a good understanding of the group they’re taking, where they’re likely to go, what they’re going to be doing, and what the problems might be.
 
“When people travel overseas they’re generally worried about being directly targeted in some kind of attack, or being in the area where an attack occurs, and either being injured or not knowing what to do and where to go.

“People’s level of concern tends to increase when the region they’re travelling to is topical. The recent attacks in France are a good example of this.

“What’s important to remember is that much of this belief that the risk is higher comes from the media. While this may well be the current perception, I don’t think this is actually the case.”

Conduct crisis response planning

Losing track of students, teachers or helpers in the event of a major incident occurring is one of the greatest risks a school group is likely to face. It’s in these situations where crisis response planning will be invaluable.

With good planning students can be properly briefed about who to call and where to go if they get lost. This might be a police station, a hotel, or some other safe venue. Having these plans in place will mean the time that should be spent getting the whole group to safety won’t be wasted trying to locate a few individuals. Once everyone is together the situation can be assessed, the crisis response plan consulted, and an appropriate response implemented.

Bill says, “Some situations might require you to stay put for a while, until things settle down, and then leave. Some might require you to leave much more quickly. Whatever the situation you need to know how you’re going to get out and where you will go.

“Getting all the way back to Australia immediately may not be possible so your plans need to allow for evacuation to a safer country nearby. Contingencies for this, including visas, could easily be arranged before leaving Australia.

“You can’t just trust that people will apply common sense or do the right thing, you have to engineer out the problems as much as you can.” 

Use local knowledge

Tap into local knowledge by using a local provider or travel company. They’ll be able to advise you on the risks and give you local tips on where you should and shouldn’t be travelling. 

Take transit seriously 

Many events occur in transit so planning these parts of your trip is critical. Organise seamless movements from airports to venues and accommodation and you’re much less likely to have problems. 

“If you’re trapped on the side of the road because your transport hasn’t turned up, or stuck in an airport because your budget flights have been cancelled, then you’re more likely to be a target of opportunity,” says Bill.

Be observant

When you’re clearly a visitor you’re much more likely to be targeted so you need to be extra vigilant. 

Bill says, “If you were taking a group of school kids to Sydney’s Kings Cross on a Friday night you’d be vigilant with safety. You’d tell students to be careful, you’d keep the group pretty tight, be on the lookout for trouble, and have your exit plan clearly prepared.

“Take the same group to a Kings Cross equivalent in Belgium or London and somehow people don’t think the same rules apply. We call it the Disneyland phenomenon.”

Use the resources available

Government warnings are extremely important. If the DFAT advice is do not travel to a particular country or area, the reasoning behind this will be sound. Make sure you’re plugged into these resources and register your travel details with the Smart Traveller website (smarttraveller.gov.au) so you can be contacted if there’s a problem. However, it is important to choose your points of reference carefully. 

“There are some very expensive sources of intelligence and information around that I just don’t believe are necessary,” says Bill. “Media outlets and websites will provide more than enough information upon which to make decisions.

“People often feel overwhelmed by crisis management, think it’s all too hard and end up doing nothing. But even a tiny amount of planning is going to result in a vast improvement in safety and security. And the more you do it, the better you’ll get.”

Good to go

With our tips on improving your safety planning, and the insights of our topic specialist, you’re ready to begin. By committing to thorough safety planning practices you can reduce your travel risks, and most importantly, keep everyone in your school group safer. 

Want to know more?

CCI has a new service that helps you identify, assess and manage the risks associated with school groups travelling internationally. For more information call the Risksupport Helpdesk on 1300 660 827.

You can visit our Risksupport website for more information relating to safety planning for school groups. 
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And for those who’d rather speak to someone, there’s our friendly Risksupport Helpdesk. Just call (or email)
1300 660 827
helpdesk@risksupport.org.au

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Posted: 4 November 2016

Topic: School Safety

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