Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Developing Safety and Security Worldwide

At People to People Ambassador Programs, the safety and health of all delegates and citizen ambassadors is our top priority. We strive to have a solid working knowledge and understanding of the current state of affairs in all corners of the world, especially the countries we visit. In order to stay current with world affairs, we use multiple resources to ensure we have the latest information.

Utilizing Worldwide Partners
First and foremost, we rely on our worldwide partners. These organizations are incredibly well connected within their respective areas and are in a unique position to pass along current and relevant information. We also rely on our past experiences. We have been operating programs around the world for more than 40 years and we have many proven safety and health procedures that provide the greatest opportunity for a positive experience for our students. In addition to these sources, we rely heavily on the U.S. Department of State and their available resources. One of these resources is the Overseas Security Advisors Council (OSAC), which employs highly skilled regional coordinators who collect and analyze the most current intelligence from all corners of the world.
One example of how OSAC supports People to People Ambassador Programs happened in late March. Each morning, I receive a summary of current events from around the world. On this day in March, I received a report of a young boy who reportedly had contracted H1N1, or swine flu, as it is commonly known. Within a few days, another alert reported the first death in Mexico. These alerts allowed our organization to start making preparations for our summer season in the event the disease spread, which it soon did. By the time we received reports about the first U.S. case, our organization was already planning communication with our delegate families and preparing to prescreen travelers.
Thanks to the information we received from the OSAC and our worldwide partners, we successfully traveled thousands of students to countries with sophisticated screening processes at airports, such as China, New Zealand, and Japan, and we did not travel one student with the virus, nor did any student traveling on our programs come down with the swine flu. Based on these results, I have now been asked by organizations such as the United States Tour Operators Association and the Student Youth Travel Association to share our practices at their conferences to reduce the chance that other students contract the virus. We clearly would not have been as successful without the early intelligence provided to us by the OSAC.

Keeping Up with Safety and Security
As a federal advisory committee, the OSAC promotes security cooperation between the U.S. Department of State, American businesses, and private sector interests worldwide. Essentially, the OSAC comprises government specialists who collect and share safety and security information to businesses around the world.

On November 18, the OSAC hosted their 24th annual briefing at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., and I attended as a representative of People to People Ambassador Programs. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was scheduled to open the conference, but she had to attend a meeting in China the night before with President Obama, and was unable to return in time. Daniel Weber, the OSAC executive director, opened the conference instead. I was pleased to spend some time with him during the two-day event. Jeffrey W. Culver, director of Diplomatic Security, also presented at the conference.

In addition we heard from Ambassador Eric J. Boswell, assistant secretary for Diplomatic Security for the U.S. Department of State.

After hearing from these individuals, I am confident we walked away with the most current and accurate information available, which will help us continue to achieve our safety goals.

The presentations gave us current intelligence on conditions in all parts of the world. Participants also had opportunities to hear and share best practices that we can incorporate into the People to People Ambassador Programs' safety, health, and security processes to ensure the continued safety of your child.

The conference theme was "Confronting Global Risks." Each presenter was highly specialized in their area of focus, and the subjects ranged from hotel safety to global finances' impact on security.

Among the attendees were some of the top corporate security specialists in the nation. For example, I was able to share many stories and ideas with Michael A. Mason, the chief security officer at Verizon Communications. Mason served as a public servant for 28 years, first as a military officer, and then in the FBI prior to joining Verizon. When the conference ended, Mason attended a meeting with the newly established Domestic Security Alliance Council (DSAC), a domestic version of the OSAC. In this group, the FBI serves as the chief liaison with businesses, instead of the State Department as with the OSAC.

As this group develops, People to People Ambassador Programs will stay involved to help ensure the continued success and safety of our domestic programs, such as our World Leadership Forums held in Washington, D.C., and our Leadership Summits at high profile universities including Harvard, Rice, and Stanford. The information gained from the DSAC will also help us develop safety practices for our "Leadership Summit: Remembering Hurricane Katrina" in New Orleans this summer.

Next year, the OSAC will celebrate 25 years of providing critical information to U.S. businesses that enables us to travel the world safely. We thank them for all they have done, and wish them the best during their 25th anniversary. We plan to attend their annual conference to continue to develop our safety and security practices at People to People Ambassador Programs.

With that, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Introducing a Few Outstanding Worldwide Partners

I just returned from London, where I toured with some of our outstanding worldwide partners. At People to People Ambassador Programs, we carefully select partner organizations around the world to arrange and deliver our specialty programs under the watchful eye of our own program manager for each location. We have an extensive history and work so closely with these organizations that we tend to view them more as an extension of our own organization than a separate entity. Mike Clark, the owner and operator of Educational Cultural Exchanges Int. Ltd. (ECE), is an excellent example.

Last week, Senior Director of Travel Services Nicola Balmain and Charity Hakes, our Europe manager, sat down with me and my team to review the past season and to plan for the years to come. One of the key topics covered in this meeting focused on an enhanced listing of Service Excellence Standards. This extensive document outlines in explicit detail every expectation of hotels, restaurants, and safety practices at all venues we visit during these amazing journeys. This document is not new, nor is the practice of clearly reviewing these expectations with our partners. In fact, after each season the five program managers always debrief with our worldwide partners, sometimes on site in their countries, and sometimes in our program office here in the United States. We believe this is time well spent ensuring there are no questions left unanswered and that everyone associated with any given program we deliver is on the exact same page in terms of expectations. The enhanced standards are just another example of our passion for continued improvement and constant enhancements in the methods we use to ensure your child’s safety and health while traveling on one of our life-changing programs.

During the week, I was also able to spend some quality time with Deborah and Terry Newman, the owners and operators of Clarkes of London, our motor coach provider. I was able to spend much of the day touring the property that is home to over 51 state of the art motor coaches.

The Clarkes of London Story
The company’s roots go back to Deborah’s grandfather, ‘Snowy’ Clarke, back in 1958. Mr. Clarke was a coal miner by trade but purchased his first motor coach to provide trips to the seaside for local children. The business soon developed into providing coaches for the local schools and clubs.
In 1972, the control of the company passed to Snowy’s eldest son, Bill Clarke, who together with his wife began to broaden the services. Bill has since retired and his eldest daughter, Deborah, now runs the day-to-day operations of the company with the help and support of her husband, Terry, and an excellent staff of professionals. You won’t see any elaborate presidential office for Deborah. She prefers a modest desk located on the floor in the operations center where she can hear all and keep a watchful eye on every facet of the operation.

During my visit and review of the equipment maintenance schedule and driver qualifications, I heard multiple times from Deborah and Terry that they do the things they do not because they are required, but because it is “the right thing to do.” That is why this organization continues to strive for excellence by providing additional training above what is required by law for their drivers. In fact, each driver on their staff has completed an advanced course, which is just one of the many extra steps they take that led to their organization being selected as the 2009 Large Coach Operator of the Year at the Route One Operator Excellence Awards. This is an award they have received many times, but this year, it seemed to mean even more to them, as the nomination came from someone in the industry who is not affiliated with the company. Among other things, the judges cited their use of technology to improve services. I had the opportunity to view a sample of this technology called the tachograph. This unit prints out on a tachodisc the speed in which a driver has gone and the duration for which he has operated the motor coach. Several people in the Clarkes office are dedicated to monitoring this information, which clearly helps ensure a driver never works outside of the legal standards of safety for drivers.

I was able to view each of the motor coaches on the lot and all of them were in pristine condition. It was almost impossible to tell the older models apart from the brand-new arrivals. The four older models (7 years old) were in such great shape that other operators are competing to buy up Clarkes’ used equipment. Deborah and Terry take such good care of the equipment that you could hardly blame the other companies! This year, they plan to purchase another six 2010 models, which will replace the last remaining 2002 models. This past year, they purchased some custom motor coaches. In fact, the week prior to my arrival, the New England Patriots and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played a scheduled National Football League game in London, and guess who won the contract to transport the team? It was, of course, Clarkes of London!

High Standards
Having managed many regional Ground Support equipment shops for several airlines, and knowing of the rigors involved with tracking each piece of equipment and ensuring that every unit is inspected on tight intervals to assure the safety of its operators, I couldn’t help but be impressed with the on-site maintenance shop the Clarkes have. You could literally eat off the floor in that shop, as its condition is maintained as well as the motor coaches themselves. They even have a body shop and a paint booth to remove the occasional scratch so that their motor coaches always remain in like-new condition. The shop is limited to touch-up paint and scratch removal, as the Clarkes report that they have yet to have been involved in any major accident with any of their vehicles. With the additional training their drivers get and the highly trained staff on site to watch out for their every move and to steer them away from any traffic issues, it’s not hard to see why.

This is truly a first-class operation, which is why Mike Clark of ECE (no relation to Clarkes of London) ultimately selected them to safety transport our students around the London area while on a People to People Ambassador program. And just one more reason why we value Mike Clark and his outstanding staff in the London office that look out for our every need and those of our valued Ambassadors.

With that, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life.


Friday, October 23, 2009

What if a Student Becomes ill on a People to People Ambassador Program?

We are often asked what happens if a student becomes ill on one of our programs, and I thought I'd address the question for you today.

At People to People Ambassador Programs, we teach all leaders to monitor a sick or injured student. What does this mean? Well, it means that we take care of every situation with intelligent and thorough training of our staff, mixed with care and compassion, and we bring in a medical professional as warranted. It means that one of our site staff, leaders, or representatives will stay behind from the day's scheduled activities and will continue to monitor the student frequently to make sure they are comfortable, safe, and well cared for. The leader will also make sure they provide the special meal service the student needs. For a more serious injury or illness, the student is taken to the nearest medical professional for evaluation. If it is determined that the student needs to remain in the hospital overnight, then the leader will stay in the facility overnight as well if permitted by the medical staff.

I had just this situation happen myself while traveling on a Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C. last fall. A student arrived on program with the beginning stages of pneumonia, and our leaders realized very quickly that the student was ill. I went with the student in an ambulance, and after immediately notifying the guardian, we spent the next two days together in the hospital. (The student got the bed and I took the unusually uncomfortable semi-reclining chair in the corner of the room.) But I was happy to be there and to make sure the student was safe and as comfortable as possible. In this case, the legal guardian couldn't make it there quickly, and I was happy to serve as a stand-in for them, filling our wait times with video games, card duels and snacks.

What if the Student has a Pre-Existing Condition?
Many of us on staff are parents ourselves and we try to handle each situation with a student as we would our own kids. I know I felt very much that way, as a parent of two sons. My oldest is 17 years old, and at just 23 months old, he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. From that day on, his mother and I have helped with the difficulties of living with this disease. Now, my son gives himself his own shots and performs his own glucose tests. He uses injections as he thinks the insulin pump is too intrusive. At 17, he wants to be like everyone else, and he is finding his own way, so it's difficult to get him to test himself when he should, to take the shot before he eats, and to test after he has given himself a shot to see if the insulin was effective.

Like most teens, he is also a little rebellious and wants his own freedom. And, like most teenagers, he sometimes tries to hide things from us, or keeps important facts to himself. So we end up being a bit of a detective from time to time. They are all trying to learn to be independent adults, finding their own way. But, the truth is, as a parent it is always hard to let go, and I think it is even harder as a parent of a diabetic or a parent with a child with any other illness. But I'll use diabetes as an example here as it is a topic close to me and my family.

What am I doing about it?
With my son in mind, I wrote a very comprehensive Diabetic Student program with input from many other sources, including one of the top diabetes specialists in the country, along with input from staff and board members of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), a board I'm now a member of. I previously served on the JDRF Board in Denver, Colorado, and I'm very familiar with the foundation's mission and goals. We built this program as an extension of existing procedures and put it into place this last year with most of the diabetic students traveling with People to People Ambassador Programs. We are further extending the program in 2010, when every diabetic will follow our comprehensive program. In general, the guide outlines various steps, like a phone call from the student to the parent or guardian - no matter the time of day - when and if the glucose readings fall outside of the range provided by the parent or guardian. This very comprehensive program and set of procedures should reduce the possibility of an incident during travel, and give greater peace of mind to parents and students alike.

With that, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life!


Monday, September 21, 2009

The Importance of the Health Form - Keeping Your Child Safe!

One of my responsibilities at People to People Ambassador Programs is to manage and provide leadership to the medical team. The medical team is composed of highly trained individuals responsible for collecting a health form from every single delegate planning to travel on one of our many life-changing programs. The health form is a simple but important two-sided document that allows parents and guardians to alert our medical team to any condition students might have that could impact their ability to participate in and enjoy the experiences of our programs. The health form is submitted to the medical team soon after participants enroll to ensure all health issues can be addressed in a timely manner prior to traveling.

While a student is on program, that same health form is carried by the program leader. In the event a student becomes ill and needs to be taken to a medical professional, the health form will provide the treating medical professional with medical information to effectively treat the student.

The medical form requests full disclosure of all health and medical conditions including but not limited to health and mobility limitations, hearing or vision impairments, allergies, diabetes, etc. The parent/guardian is asked to fully explain any health, medical, or mobility conditions or limitations and notify the medical team of all medications the student requires to control the conditions, along with emergency contact information. The health form also requires the parent/guardian to acknowledge and agree to important disclosures. These agreed disclosures serve several purposes and allow People to People Ambassador Programs associates and leaders to seek medical treatment for the student in the event such treatment is needed while a student is on the program. The parent/guardian also consents and authorizes the treating physician to share important information with our program office and with the leaders in the field. Having this authorization allows us to promptly communicate factual information with the student’s parent/guardian (or designated emergency contacts in the event a parent/guardian is unavailable).

The health form explains the importance of disclosing all health and medical conditions or information to our medical team. The reason is very simple—if we clearly understand a student’s health or medical condition in advance, our organization will be more successful in providing the best possible program for the traveler. Full disclosure of all health and medical conditions by the parent/guardian in advance increases our ability to reasonably accommodate the student’s health and medical needs.

At People to People Ambassador Programs, we pride ourselves on our ability to provide reasonable accommodations as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In 2009, we increased the number of reasonable accommodations made from 2008, which means that many more students can have access to a life-changing experience, including those who may not have had the opportunity with other organizations in the past.

One of the ways we keep up to date on the latest ADA laws is by annually inviting our friends and colleagues from the Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center (DBTAC) to our Spokane headquarters. For the past two years, this group of ADA specialists from the University of Washington campus in Mountlake Terrace, Washington, has traveled to Spokane to provide our organization with the most up-to-date training available on ADA laws and requirements. Last year, we trained more than 20 key associates who are responsible for establishing program venues and content as well as dealing directly with families requesting reasonable accommodations. Of course, we also trained the leadership team responsible for the management of our vast network of leaders. Next month, the DBTAC will make its annual trip to Spokane to provide this year’s training, just in time to cover some of the ADA laws that were expanded or changed in 2009.

In addition to ADA training, we also provide HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1999) training and certification to the key individuals who have access to confidential medical information. The privacy rules contained within HIPAA provide federal protections for personal health information held by covered entities and give patients an array of rights with respect to that information. At the same time, the privacy rules are balanced so that they permit the disclosure of personal health information needed for patient care and other important purposes.

People to People Ambassador Programs is not held to the rigorous standards of HIPAA by any agency, as we are not a medical-service provider nor do we charge for medical services. But we do believe the confidentiality of your child’s medical information is vitally important, and therefore we voluntarily have elected to meet and implement HIPAA standards and requirements. Accessibility to all medical information is limited to just those associates who have a reason to know the information. Each employee with this access, including me, has been certified in HIPAA Privacy and Security Training by Supremus Group. What this means to you is that the information you share with our organization will be kept confidential and protected.

In short, we have a very comprehensive medical-health review process in place that is designed to ensure the safety and health of all delegates while they are on one of our programs. But our ability to effectively manage this program relies on the information shared on the medical health form. If your child needs a reasonable accommodation, our highly trained medical team will do all in their power to develop a plan that is right for your child.

As always, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life!


Friday, September 4, 2009

Safety Measures for Swine-Flu-Free Experiences in Washington, D.C.

Yesterday we reached out to the families of all our delegates traveling with us on one of our fall World Leadership Forum programs in Washington, D.C.

The safety of all our delegates is our number-one priority. To that end, we are prepared to aggressively control the risk of the influenza virus impacting any of our delegates, and I’d like to share with you how we are achieving that goal.

Usually, we see a small number (generally 4-6) of students who arrive at our leadership forums with some form of virus. Each program consists of several hundred students, so it is a very small percentage that arrives at a program ill. People to People ensures these students receive prompt care by one of the many medical facilities in the D.C. area. They are also attended to by individual People to People associates assigned to monitor their conditions and personal needs as they recover. We have found that students who arrive ill on our programs almost always had symptoms at home prior to travel.

I experienced this firsthand on my first World Leadership Forum last fall when a young man experienced shallow breathing, fatigue, and other symptoms upon arrival at the program. He was immediately seen by a medical professional on site, and then he and I headed to the hospital via ambulance. The diagnosis was early-stage pneumonia, a condition he had developed several days prior to departing for our program.

I spent the next two nights sleeping in a chair in his room while the doctors cared for the student, as it is our policy to never leave a student alone in a medical facility. Fortunately, we caught the condition early and were able to immediately get this student the medical attention he so needed, and he was able to rejoin the rest of the delegation for the remainder of the program once we were assured he was no longer contagious and was fit to participate in the many activities planned.

I share this story with you to give you some insight into how we protect your student from exposure to viruses and other conditions that some students unknowingly bring onto our programs. With the media coverage surrounding swine flu and the potential for contracting influenza A as students come together, we thought you should know we are taking steps to ensure your child’s health and safety.

The question most often asked by parents during the enrollment process is always “How will People to People ensure the safety of my child?” The answer is that we are proactive with many programs, procedures, and safeguards in place to ensure the risk of any problem is reduced as much as possible. Our program this fall for our World Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C., is just one example of our attention to detail in this matter.

Yesterday we sent an email to every family of delegates traveling to Washington, D.C., during the next three weeks. We will also contact the remaining delegations as we get closer to their departure dates. In these emails, we disclose our plans to prevent any student from contracting influenza A while on our program. This program is very similar to the successful steps we took to ensure no delegate traveled internationally this summer with the H1N1 virus.

The U.S. government no longer tests for swine flu or H1N1 due to the volume of cases already reported, the difficulty in tracking such a high volume, and the cost of the individual tests. Instead, a quick blood test can yield results within 30 minutes that will determine if a patient has influenza A. If this test is positive, it is assumed that the patient has the H1N1 virus.

In our email, we ask if anyone in the family has experienced any of the following symptoms:

  • High fever above 100.4 degrees F
  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Body aches
  • Chills and fatigue
  • Diarrhea and vomiting

If their child shows the above symptoms the day prior to travel, we advise the family not to send their child on the program. Instead, we provide many options, one of which includes transferring the delegate to another fall 2009 or spring 2010 program without penalty.

We also advise the families that it is our intent to take the temperatures of each student using a nonintrusive scanner prior to acceptance into our programs. Those few who show significant symptoms will be immediately escorted to a medical professional for evaluation. If they test positive for influenza A, the student will be cared for away from the rest of the delegation and will rejoin the group 48 hours after symptoms have subsided.

We do not anticipate that many students will need to be escorted to a medical facility. Instead, we believe that being proactive and up-front with all families in advance will discourage those few with a sick child from sending them on the program, further ensuring the health and safety of the majority of students who arrive healthy and ready to participate in their life-changing experiences.

I share with you our safety measures not to scare you but to reassure you that our team here at People to People cares deeply about your child and will do all that we can to help them proceed with their great adventure.

With that, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Time to hit the road and learn!

Now that the 2009 summer travel season has come to a close, it’s time to focus our attention on the 2010 season. Each year we dive deep into the detail of the past season to draw out lessons learned, best practices, and detailed information that will be transferred into action plans that enable us to continually enhance our safety practices. Although 2009 was a great season, like all responsible organizations, we must never rest on our success, but continually seek new and innovative ways to improve our systems and processes. One of the ways we accomplish that objective is to participate in industry conferences designed to share ideas and concepts with other educational travel providers.

Tomorrow I will depart for Norfolk, VA to attend the Student Youth Travel Association’s (SYTA) Annual Conference. The SYTA Conference is considered the premier event for the student and youth travel market. The Conference provides educational growth and information sharing to help companies involved with student travel improve themselves and the products and services they provide.

SYTA is the non-profit, professional trade association that promotes student & youth travel and seeks to foster integrity and professionalism among student and youth travel service providers. SYTA also maintains and is guided by an Educational Advisory Board comprised of representatives from organizations such as the Canadian Association of Principals, National Association of Music Education, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Association of State Boards of Education, National Middle School Association, and the National School Boards Association.

By participating in this conference, we are able to learn and share best industry practices and also help shape future policies and regulations that will impact the Educational Travel Industry.
Attending this year’s conference with me will be Shannon Scheiwiller, the Senior Director of Leadership Programs. Shannon is also a nominee to the Board of Directors for SYTA. Shannon is responsible for our leadership development programs in prominent centers of history and learning—including Washington, D.C., London, Brussels, Paris, and top American universities. Students from grades 5-12 come from all over the world to hone their leadership skills, prepare for college, and explore future careers through unique access to extraordinary people, places, and insights.

I will also participate in the leadership of this organization this year by serving on the Professional Development Committee. This committee will evaluate Travel Accreditation Programs, Certified Student Travel Professional Programs, and Supplier Certification programs. All are designed to ensure the highest standards of safety and excellence of the operators we associate with. I’m excited about this opportunity.

On October 13th, I will be the keynote speaker on best practices for the handling of swine flu. This will be an Educational Conference Call sponsored by SYTA and offered to all members. I will share our successes in the handling of swine flu exposure to help other organizations successfully react to this disease as the nation continues to develop its pandemic response. Our experiences in China uniquely qualify our organization for leading this event as we did not have a single case of swine flu in China during the travel season due to the proactive steps we took in preparing our associates, students, parents, and leaders for travel.

I will provide more information on the scheduled conference call and the information shared as the date grows closer. I also plan to highlight lessons learned at this conference in my blog next week so please come back to view them.

If you would like more information about SYTA please go to or you may contact them directly at the address or phone number listed below.

SYTA Office
Student & Youth Travel Association
8400 Westpark Drive, 2nd Floor
McLean, VA 22102-5116
Tel: 703-610-1263

With that, it’s time for me to pack my bag and hit the road. As always, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life!


Thursday, August 20, 2009

It’s now official; all students are home safe and sound

On Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 11:11 am you could hear a pin drop around the People to People program office here in Spokane, Washington. Moments later, the silence turned into an eruption of high-fives, cheers, and celebration. Why the sudden change in emotion? Well, at 11:12 am, Flight 62 from Narita to Los Angeles arrived 12 minutes early which marked the return of our final summer student delegation to U.S. soil for the 2009 season.

This also marked the beginning of the end for our On-Call team. I say the beginning of the end because they are still on guard until every single student and leader is home safely to their families. Since May 31 when our first delegation departed the U.S., the On-Call team has been manning the phones in our Delegate Support Call Center 24/7. That is 75 straight days covering over 1,800 continuous hours by dedicated associates on standby and communicating throughout the summer with family members who have relatives traveling with us.

As you can imagine, we receive thousands of calls during our peak summer travel season. This year, our call number topped out at 4,154 calls. The greatest number of calls this summer into our support network where classified “medical minor”. These are inbound calls from a teacher leader traveling with a student delegation. The majority of these calls were to let our team know that a student had a sore throat, a minor fever, or even an upset stomach. Once we receive that call, we immediately document the details in what we refer to as an incident report. With this incident report in hand, our On-Call team jumps into action. The team’s first and foremost priority is to immediately contact the family of the student and explain the situation. In many cases, the teacher leader has already phoned the parents to reassure them that the medical situation is a minor one and their child is being cared for. If there is any doubt to the severity of the situation, the teacher leader along with our on-site manager will quickly transport the student to a local hospital or clinic to get medical attention.

When we call home, most all parents thank us for contacting them and express appreciation for keeping them informed. On a rare occasion we do get a parent who has been awakened by our call in the middle of the night and feels we may have taken our parent notification policy a little far, but that’s okay with us. We prefer to respond immediately to inform family members about their child’s situation regardless of what time it is.

For our On-Call team it doesn’t end there. The team meets in our Command Center every morning at 8:30 am and again at 4:30 pm seven days a week. Representatives from each department are present to get an update report and handle all issues that fall into their area of expertise. Another purpose of this meeting is to ensure that someone is assigned to every single open incident and to take personal responsibility to make certain that all required follow-up is timely and accurately completed.

The second largest call volume each summer comes from lonely parents calling to ask us to contact their son or daughter and remind them to call home. In most cases, once a student begins our program, meets new friends, and takes part in life changing experiences, they get so wrapped up in all the happenings that they forget to check-in with mom and dad. These requests also go into incident reports and are tracked until we have confirmed with the parent that the student has made the call home.

I don’t want you to believe that we don’t deal with some serious events during the summer travel season, because we do. However, whether the incidents are major or minor in nature, we handle every situation with the same group of dedicated professionals and follow our safety protocols.

Ultimately, I am personally responsible for the On-Call team here at People to People and for preparing our associates to handle any situation. In the coming months, we will complete our review of the summer season. We will make the needed adjustments to our procedures and training methods so that in 2010 this team will continue to look for ways to improve and raise our travel safety standards.

As an organization, we are all committed to ongoing improvement and are highly focused on our ultimate goal, to ensure that no student, leader, or associate, ever comes in harm’s way. That’s my purpose and my passion here at People to People.

Here's wishing you safe travels and a healthy life!


Monday, August 10, 2009

Another Safe Summer Travel Season Comes to a Close

Here we are again with another summer coming to a close. As our final travelers head home from their journeys, it’s a perfect time to launch my regular travel safety blog. What I want to accomplish with my new blog is to talk about travel safety and the many ways safety impacts travel, trends, learnings, and also to establish open communications with you.

This summer has been full of some unique challenges. I’m happy to say that we have risen to all of them, and learned a lot in the process. This summer was all about moving quickly to manage the Swine Flu (H1N1) and eventual pandemic along with the very individual ways different countries responded to it. We at People to People Ambassadors Programs had a very significant China program this year, our groups were traveling through China all summer. The Chinese government in general, had the most aggressive response to the pandemic of any major country, holding anyone with a raised body temperature for as much as 24 hours in a hospital or placing in quarantine for up to seven days anyone who may have been exposed to the illness depending on where they sat on the plane. More than one People to People group was impacted this summer. See our web site for People to People’s response and my regular messages on the subject at

One of the most important things to do in a situation like the H1N1 pandemic is to maintain open channels of communication. Here are some of the procedures we immediately put into place to ensure that we did just that:

  • We immediately sent a senior team to China to make sure we had staff on the ground to ensure the health and safety of our student ambassadors; I headed out to China immediately myself to access the situation prior to our first student delegation arriving.
  • We immediately contacted the U.S. Embassy in China and worked with them throughout the summer.
  • We contacted all parents of students traveling to China at least 7 to 14 days in advance of their student’s program to complete a questionnaire and ensure we never sent a student exposed to, or with H1N1.
  • We immediately alerted all parents of anyone taken into quarantine or secondary screening at the hospital and maintained a 24-hour staff here in Spokane, which is standard procedure for the organization every travel season.
  • Each family with a quarantined student was assigned a specific Family Liaison Team member who they could contact 24 hours a day for any need they might have.
  • We alerted all parents with students traveling in the China program as to what was happening with the quarantine situation as it evolved.
  • We provided the quarantined students with laptops and cell phones so that they could keep in touch back home and let everyone know they were fine and to keep the lines of communication open.
  • Daily care packages were brought into the quarantine hotel to make sure the students had something to do, and brighten their day. I personally brought games, candy and other items in right away. We had so many gifts that the generous students shared with other people under quarantine!

Our leaders are world class! While not required to be there by the Chinese government, our leaders all volunteered to be quarantined to ensure the health and well-being of our students. In addition, nine other leaders volunteered to be placed with the 15 students who were taken to a local hospital for secondary screening.

Even though Chinese officials promised that we would always be able to have a student accompanied by a leader, in one case at a hospital used for the first time by the government they didn’t keep that promise. One of our leaders stayed directly outside the door to the quarantined student’s room to make sure that only the medical staff was entering. This leader is a great example of the level of commitment to the students of our extraordinary adults who lead People to People programs.

Beyond the international incident we tackled over the summer with the H1N1 virus, we also had one that was more of a personal nature. One unexpected incident that we handled this summer had to do with the brief disappearance of one of our students while in Paris, France. This student chose deliberately to slip away from the delegation to “explore independently.” As parents and delegates know, small-group exploration for short periods is a free-time activity for our older students only and much of the reason for our pre-travel screening of students; whether at home or abroad, teens need to make good decisions, follow the rules, and listen to those in charge. In this instance we did everything we could to ensure this student’s safety as quickly as possible:

  • We made contact with the student’s parents within an hour of the student intentionally leaving the hotel.
  • A citywide APB was put out within 2 hours.
  • We involved the U.S. Embassy, FBI, Paris police, and U.S. police in the search.
  • The Paris police requested a 24-hour period before the full search began, so we cooperated with the student’s parents instead to follow the student’s credit card use.
  • We obtained photos of the student using the ATMs by herself and under no apparent distress.
  • We sent staff to the locations where the card was being used to show photos of the student to the employees to see if anyone had seen the student.
  • We sent the parents to get emergency passports.
  • We arranged for the parents to be flown to Paris with a representative from our organization.
  • Within 36 hours the student was reunited with the parents at the U.S. Embassy.
  • The parents had their child formally apologize to our organization and the law officials for running away.
  • The parents and student were returned to the U.S.

For other People to People parents, I want you to know that this type of concern and responsiveness are available to each and every student. We don’t just pay lip-service to the idea that our students’ safety is our first priority. We live it—in cases like these, on a moment-to-moment basis, with the care and concern nearly as great as that of the parents.

Though our first concern is always the safety of the student, it was gratifying to speak to the U.S. Embassy in Paris, where a representative told us that in 20 years she had never seen an incident like this better handled by an organization.

My sole focus at People to People, as well as that of my entire team, is to ensure the health and safety of every single delegate. We are very proud of our ability to do just that during the 2009 season, even with unexpected situations and unexpected choices from students. We continually improve our ability to expect the unexpected and be prepared for all situations. It’s why I’m here, the only person in the industry with my job title and description. And that’s why we are dedicated to being the leader in offering high-quality, safe educational adventures for thousands of students every year.

The summer has nearly come to an end for People to People Ambassador Programs, and what a summer it has been. We saw some fabulous People to People moments—including the return of a World War II battle flag to a Japanese widow. Moments like this are the very essence of People to People—bridging cultural and political borders, and making the world a better place for future generations.

Until next time - I’m wishing you safe and happy travels,