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!


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