What Really Happens During a Travel Emergency
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What Really Happens During a Travel Emergency

My phone rang and I was told there was an accident in Peru.

“One of our groups got caught in a landslide and there are people trapped in a truck right now!”

As I was processing what I’d heard, a message appeared in Skype: For the next three hours, we will be running a crisis simulation. My panic was momentarily relieved before I snapped into action.

Safety on teen travel programs is paramount. So much so that at Rustic Pathways we hold practice sessions on major disaster scenarios. The goal is to become so adept at handling major incidents that if one were to occur, we’d know exactly what to do. And I didn’t know this one was coming.

For the next three hours, my phone rang repeatedly with actors pretending to be concerned parents, staff, and students. We played out the scenario as though it were real and engaged our Crisis Response Team, which included our CEO, directors, mid-level managers, Country Management teams, and Program Leaders. Everyone assumed a different role within the response to ensure that all areas and people were supported.

We divided the team to communicate effectively with each “parent.” There were multiple “students” with varying degrees of hypothetical injuries. The actors were unrelenting. Emotions ran high. It felt real.

In the scenario, our Program Leaders (who are certified Wilderness First Responders) stabilized the situation on the ground. The team quickly dispatched an ambulance. We kept each “parent” informed throughout.

Afterward, we debriefed and discussed what went well and what lessons we learned.

Putting Practice Into Action

Shortly after the summer travel season began in June, when real-life students ventured to nearly 20 countries around the world, a student got sick in Thailand. The student had stomach pain and the student’s group was set to visit a village in the jungle, hours away from medical care.

When the student’s pain intensified, our Program Leaders knew this was more than a typical stomach bug. At that point, all of our training kicked in.

Our Country Management Team organized an evacuation, escorting the student to the nearest hospital and notifying the student’s parents within a few hours. The doctors ran tests and told us that the student needed to have an emergency appendectomy.

We initiated the Crisis Response Team and after reaching the parents, booked them a flight to Thailand. We contacted our medical, security, and travel assistance partner to work with the hospital on next steps while members of our Country Team stayed with that student.

By the time that student’s parents arrived in Thailand, the student was out of surgery and already in recovery.

I thought back to that crisis simulation months before and how valuable it was to practice dealing with extreme situations. When it came time to act, we were prepared.

While there’s an inherent risk to any kind of travel, it feels good knowing that we’re doing everything we can to mitigate that risk and keep our students safe around the world. And because of that, another summer is over and the more than 5,000 students who traveled with Rustic returned home safely.

For more information about how Rustic Pathways ensures the health and safety of your teen, please visit the Health and Safety page on our website. 

About the Author

Pete Brown

Global Safety and Risk Manager

A graduate of St John’s University in Minnesota, Pete developed his first love of travel studying abroad in New Zealand and Australia. That experience kicked off an 18-year career in the travel industry. Pete has guided groups across the United States, Canada, the Yukon Terrority and way up north to Alaska. Through this vast experience he has focused his career on Risk and Safety. Pete and his wife continue to travel all over the world and currently live in NYC with their two beautiful daughters.