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SAFETI Clearinghouse
Special Issue: Japan Travel Safety

Special Issue: Japan Travel Safety: Impact of Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Power Plant Issues: U.S. Department of State Travel Alert for Japan (March 21 Update)

Information and Resources to Help U.S. Colleges and Universities Respond to Safety Challenges for Academic Programs in Japan

Gary Rhodes, Ph.D., Director

Safety Abroad First - Educational Travel Information (SAFETI) Clearinghouse, Center for Global Education, UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies

Japan has been one of the most popular study abroad destinations for many years (11th in 2008/09 with 5,784 U.S. students according to the IIE Open Doors Report). On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 (updated from original reports at 8.9) earthquake struck Japan, followed by a 23 foot tsunami. Since that time, there have been many aftershocks and alarms for the potential of another tsunami as well as significant damage to nuclear power plants. The earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant safety issues in Japan have raised concerns about the safety of students currently in Japan and others that may be planning to travel there in the future. On March 16, 2011, the U.S. Department of State raised the level of concern from a Travel Alert to a Travel Warning for Japan (updated on March 21st).

The U.S. Department of State Japan Travel Warning suggests that U.S. citizens avoid tourism and non-essential travel to Japan and consider departure from Japan.

"The State Department strongly urges U.S. citizens to defer travel to Japan at this time and those in Japan should consider departing. Also, on March 17, the Department of State authorized the voluntary departure from Japan of eligible family members of U.S. government personnel in Tokyo (Tokyo Capital Region), Nagoya (Aichi Prefecture), Yokohama (Kanagawa Prefecture), and the prefectures of Akita, Chiba, Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki, Iwate, Miyagi, Nagano, Niigata, Saitama, Shizouka, Tochigi, Yamagata, and Yamanashi. Separately, because of infrastructure damage from the earthquake and resulting tsunami, voluntary authorized departure is authorized for the eligible family members at Misawa AB (Aomori Prefecture).

On March 16, the State Department authorized the voluntary departure from Japan of eligible family members of U.S. government personnel assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, the U.S. Consulate in Nagoya, the Foreign Service Institute Field School in Yokohama and the prefectures of Akita, Aomori, Chiba, Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki, Iwate, Miyagi, Nagano, Niigata, Saitama, Shizouka, Tochigi, Yamagata, and Yamanashi. U.S. citizens should defer all travel to the evacuation zone around Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, areas affected by the earthquake and tsunami and tourism and non-essential travel to the rest of Japan at this time."

The Travel Warning notes that the U.S. Department of State is working to support the departure of U.S. citizens from Japan:

"The Department of State is working to assist U.S. citizens to depart from affected areas. U.S. citizens in Tokyo should review our Japan Earthquake/Pacific Tsunami webpage at for updated departure-related information."

As colleges, universities, and study abroad providers make decisions about what steps to take, it is prudent to review the statements of institutions that have decided to discontinue programs and implement plans to bring students back to the U.S. from Japan:

Following is the statement from Charles Reed, the Chancellor of the largest public higher education system in the U.S., the California State University (CSU) System:

"Although some of our students are not in areas directly affected by the earthquake or the tsunami that followed, the damage to infrastructure and the resulting potential for shortages and other logistical problems are cause for concern. Also cause for concern is the continuing uncertainty and increasing danger caused by damaged nuclear facilities. Leaving our students in this situation is not a risk I am willing to take. My first concern is always for our students and their health and safety. In this case there is danger not only in the present due to damage and aftershocks, but also in the future due to the delayed effects of unseen radiation."

In California, the University of California Education Abroad Programs (UC) systemwide office has also suspended their programs in Japan and will be evacuating students. The CSU and UC Systems and other U.S. colleges and universities are now moving forward with the return of students from Japan. Others are moving students to cities farther away from the nuclear power plants. Institutions should bring together their crisis management teams and work with their emergency assistance/insurance providers to make plans to evacuate students if they decide to do so. If institutions decide to maintain study abroad programs in Japan, information should be provided to students about all potential dangers from additional earthquakes, tsunami, nuclear power plant damage, and compromised infrastructure in Japan and provide support to ease their ability to leave Japan at this time.

One challenge that institutions are reporting is whether or not their insurance/emergency assistance providers are covering the cost of evacuation of students from Japan. It is important that institutions work closely with campus risk managers to confirm that there is coverage in place to support these costs and that they work closely with insurance/emergency assistance providers to obtain assistance in coordinating and implementing this support when it is necessary. Some policies do not cover environmental/natural disasters so institutions may need to find special internal campus funding to cover these costs.

Along with concerns about the safety of faculty, staff, and students, it is important to look back on the response to the earthquake in Haiti and one of the key issues that came up when decisions were made to return students to the U.S. and limit the movement of students. In many parts of Japan, there are limited food and energy resources, and U.S. college and university students may be using these limited resources that may be needed by the local population at this time.

This is not to say that U.S. colleges and universities should limit their commitment to Japan, Japanese higher education and the population there. Faculty with appropriate expertise from higher education institutions across the U.S. continue to provide support for the response. U.S. college and university faculty, staff, students, and alumni are leading efforts to raise awareness, funding, and other support for Japan. Although budgets are challenged in the U.S., there may be ways to limit requests for reimbursements of payments for students who would have studied in Japan and turn those into credits for students who will study at Japanese universities in the future. U.S. colleges and universities may also be able to find spaces for Japanese students based on existing exchange agreements to help them continue their studies in the U.S. if their campus in Japan is compromised. Finding ways to use technology to maintain academic connections is also critical at this time.

The U.S. Department of State Travel Warning reinforces concerns about water and food supplies as well as power and transportation disruptions: "Hardships caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami continue to cause severe difficulties for people in the areas affected by the disaster. Temporary shortages of water and food supplies may occur in affected areas of Japan due to power and transportation disruptions."

"U.S. citizens currently in Japan should be aware that rolling power outages are scheduled for the Tokyo Metropolitan area and in northern and central Honshu. Tokyo Electric Company reports that three-hour outages may occur in various regions, including Tokyo, starting the morning of Monday, March 14. Please monitor the Tokyo Electric Power Company website,, and local news media for specific information and schedules for the planned outages. Radio stations in the Tokyo area that have emergency information in English include the U.S. Armed Forces station at 810AM and InterFM (76.1FM)."

There are concerns about additional earthquakes/aftershocks as well as the potential of an additional tsunami. However, even if there are no further aftershocks or tsunamis, a focus of concern at this time is the damage to nuclear power plants in Japan and the potential impact of leaks/radioactive contamination:

" response to the deteriorating situation at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Department of Energy, and other technical experts in the U.S. Government have reviewed the scientific and technical information they have collected from assets in country, as well as what the Government of Japan has disseminated. Consistent with the NRC guidelines that would apply to such a situation in the United States, we are recommending, as a precaution, that U.S. citizens who live within 50 miles (80 kilometers) of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant evacuate the area or to take shelter indoors if safe evacuation is not practical."

Although, currently the U.S. government recommends that for their safety, U.S. citizens be at least 50 miles (80 kilometers) away from the nuclear power plant, there is concern that the impact could (and has) spread much further than this.

The U.S. government has also confirmed that it is providing Potassium Iodide to U.S. government personnel and dependents in case the radiological release worsens: "On March 21, 2011, consistent with NRC guidelines that apply to such a situation in the United States, the U.S. Government is making available Potassium Iodide (KI) as a precautionary measure for United States Government personnel and dependents residing within Nagoya (Aichi Prefecture), Tokyo (Tokyo Capital Region), Yokohama (Kanagawa Prefecture), and the prefectures of Akita, Aomori, Chiba, Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki, Iwate, Miyagi, Nagano, Niigata, Saitama, Shizouka, Tochigi, Yamagata, and Yamanashi. The KI should only be consumed after specific instruction from the United States Government. While there is no indication that it will become advisable to take KI, out of an abundance of caution the United States Government is making it available to its personnel and family members to be used only upon direction if a change in circumstances were to warrant. No-one should take KI at this time. In the event of a radiological release, sheltering in place or departing the affected area remain the primary means of protection."

"There are numerous factors in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, including weather, wind direction, and speed, and the nature of the reactor problem that affect the risk of radioactive contamination within this 50-mile (80-kilometer) radius or the possibility of lower-level radioactive materials reaching greater distances. For the latest U.S. Government information on the situation in Japan, please go to the U.S. Department of State Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami Website. Information about nuclear radiation exposure risks can be obtained from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at and from the Centers for Disease Control at"

Because of safety concerns related to the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, the Warden Message - March 17, the U.S. Ambassador to Japan issued a statement suggesting that U.S. citizens who live within 50 miles (80 kilometers) evacuate the area or take shelter indoors if safe evacuation is not practical."

"The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Department of Energy and other technical experts in the U.S. Government have reviewed the scientific and technical information they have collected from assets in country, as well as what the Government of Japan has disseminated, in response to the deteriorating situation at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Consistent with the NRC guidelines that apply to such a situation in the United States, we are recommending, as a precaution, that American citizens who live within 50 miles (80 kilometers) of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant evacuate the area or to take shelter indoors if safe evacuation is not practical."

The Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) has also provided recommendations, which you can find on NISA's Website. Their instructions may vary from those of the U.S. government. You can also find more information on radiation emergencies from the Centers for Disease Control Emergency Preparedness and Response website at"

At this time, an increasing number of study abroad programs are evacuating students from Japan, although some are not. Institutions who are continuing to maintain programs/students in Japan are moving students away from the areas hardest hit by the earthquake and tsunami and further from the nuclear power plants that are unstable at this time.

Institutional representatives are reviewing whether they should follow the U.S. Department of State Travel Alert and cancel programs that have not yet begun to avoid additional travel by students, faculty, and staff to Japan at this time. Many are allowing students who want to leave Japan to do so, even if it is in the midst of a study abroad program. Institutions are also developing methods to support those students following their departure from Japan.

With the potential for additional aftershocks and tsunamis as well as the impact from those which have already taken place, the challenge at this time is the potential for things to get worse before they get better. It is important to provide support for students in Japan. Having group and individual meetings with students may help to determine if they have any special physical or mental health needs requiring special support.

Because of the broad range of challenges at this time and limited staff resources in a study abroad office, it is particularly critical that a college or university campus team come together to respond effectively to these challenges and support programs, faculty, staff, and students in Japan. Since many study abroad students participate in programs run by Japanese universities, it is critical to maintain regular contact with on-site partners.

The current challenges in Japan raise a number of programmatic issues for institutions and their students, faculty, and staff. If an institution has a policy for "no programs in a country with a Travel Alert or Travel Warning", it should consider how to respond to the current situation given the possibility that students, faculty, and staff are in Japan and others are considering travel there. There is a significant amount of uncertainty at this time: Will these events transition to no additional earthquakes or tsunami and solutions for problems at power plants or will things get worse?

Home campus and on-site staff should plan for "best-case" and "worst-case" scenarios. It is critical to work with campus and on-site staff as well as emergency assistance/insurance providers to make plans to safely bring students from Japan back to the U.S., if the decision is made to do so.

It is important that faculty and staff get advice from many experts, including the U.S. Department of State, through Embassy and Consular Officials in Japan, to American Citizens Services Consular Affairs Staff, and Overseas Security Advisory Council RISC Staff in the U.S. Department of State in Washington D.C. Constant communication with partners in the U.S. and abroad is important as well.

For programs located in areas where current safety conditions strongly suggest a temporary suspension of study abroad programs, we suggest working with partners to identify creative solutions to continue with the international collaboration. For example, the use of technology could help students accomplish some of their intended goals, and sustain collaborative activities, while at the same time limiting possible financial and academic impacts. Creative solutions can help sustain existing relationships with international partners.

The communication challenge is particularly heightened in Japan. Communication through land-based phone lines may be the best form of communication when internet and cell phones are not available. It may be worthwhile to consider having a satellite phone for program staff when other methods of communication are not available. The Travel Alert provides the following suggestion to support effective communication:

"U.S. citizens in Japan are encouraged to enroll in the Smart Travelers Enrollment Program (STEP) at the following website: U.S. citizens without internet access may enroll directly at the U.S. Embassy. By enrolling, U.S. citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.

Updated information on travel and security in Japan may be obtained from the Department of State by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. For further information, please consult the Country Specific Information for Japan, as well as the Worldwide Caution."

The March 14 Warden Message from the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, Japan provides updates on rolling blackouts, as well as a list of ways to try to find missing persons following the earthquake and tsunamis. There is also concern about additional volcanic activity, recently reported at Mount Shinmoe by a U.S. Embassy February 1, 2011 Warden Message.

Institutions should take time to identify the locations in Japan where the safety and security of students/faculty/staff is of heightened concern. Clear guidance should be provided as to where study abroad, research, and other activities can continue to safely take place, and specific warnings should be provided regarding areas of the country and situations to avoid during program related activities and independent travel.

Developing an appropriate response at an institution may require better resources for the study abroad staff, better analysis of the health and safety challenges abroad, and enhanced collaboration to include input from legal counsel, risk management, student affairs, others across campus, external experts, and international partners. All international programs should be reviewed so that policies supporting study abroad are also considered for service learning, athletics, campus ministry, research, special projects, and other programs that send students, faculty, or staff abroad. In order to provide a consistent message to faculty, staff, students, and parents, the departments on campus with international programs should be working with the campus Public Relations office to develop a statement on how the institution is responding to Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts.

It is important to incorporate the perspective of risk management in the discussion to confirm that the health, emergency assistance, and liability insurance will properly cover faculty, staff, students, and institutions in countries for which Travel Alerts and Travel Warnings have been issued. We also recommend that you check with emergency assistance providers to see what the terms of their coverage are for students, faculty, and staff who return to the U.S. from a country or region that an institution deems "unsafe", but is not mentioned in a Travel Warning or Travel Alert.

This is a good time to bring an institutional campus crisis management team together to review institutional policies and procedures. It is important to ensure that there are plans in place for a coordinated effort among the various units involved in the planning and implementation of programs abroad. With proper support, this can become an opportunity for international learning and understanding on campus.

At the same time, it is important for all institutions to follow due diligence protocols that support a comprehensive analysis of the program locations, participant demographics, program focus, and health and safety concerns. Issues of where faculty, staff, and students travel during their independent time while abroad should be addressed as well. Providing clear information and resources for faculty, staff, students, and parents is necessary to support educated decisions about participation in and the continued implementation of programs with components which take place abroad. Appropriate and measured analysis of and response to U.S. Department of State Travel Alerts and Warnings is necessary to support the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff participating in international programs.

The SAFETI Clearinghouse resources, along with other available resources, can contribute to the work of institutions while they enhance their planning and response efforts as well as supporting international learning through the movement of students, faculty, and staff between the U.S. and Japan.

Preparing for the worst-case scenario requires a broad-ranging review of issues; from medical care abroad, emergency evacuation policies and options, refund policies, separation of faculty, staff, and students if on-site administrators are the ones who are injured or arrested, having 24-hour support in the U.S. and abroad, maintaining updated information about the current state of political unrest in any place where a program takes place, where excursions go, and where students go during independent travel.

If an institution integrates this into their crisis management planning, this can become an opportunity to be prepared for other crises unforeseen by faculty and staff. This is also an opportunity for study abroad administrators to take an active role in on-campus crisis management planning as this is a problem that could just as easily affect the city where your campus is in the U.S. This is an opportunity to prepare on campus and prepare abroad in an integrated fashion.

Key personnel to involve in planning, for a comprehensive university, could include:

  • U.S. college or university/Study abroad program support team
    • Student affairs administrators
    • Study abroad administrators
    • Campus security/police officer
    • Risk manager/insurance coordinator
    • Legal counsel
    • Health center
    • Counseling center
    • Public relations
    • President or chancellor's office
    • Other on-site staff
    • Student representatives
  • Support Abroad
    • On-site program administrator
    • Other on-site staff
    • On-site health provider
    • On-site counseling provider
    • Insurance representative
    • 24-hour assistance company
    • U.S. government representative (Embassy or Consular official)
    • Local police
    • Local emergency assistance provider

Colleges and universities with study abroad programs should be prepared to respond to this or any other possible crisis abroad. Support should include a Crisis Management Team in the U.S. and abroad, a Crisis Management Plan, and policies and procedures which have been tested in cooperation with staff in the U.S. and abroad.

Crisis Management
As you consider the current state of political turmoil, and put it into the perspective of preparing for and responding to the continually escalating situation in Japan, the following ten steps may assist with your planning:

  • Ten Steps for Effective Crisis Response Planning
    1. Centralized Support and Planning: Include Cross-Campus Planning for All International Programs (Study Abroad, Research, Internships, Service-Learning, Athletic Teams, etc.) and Decision-Making
    2. Develop a Balanced Campus-wide Response - Don't Over- or Under- React; Leadership Needs to Be Organized, Consistent, On Message, Calm, and Appropriate to the Incident
    3. Keep Campus Response Team Current With Relevant Data
    4. Monitor Broad Ranging Data/Situation Regularly Using Resources Including:
      • U.S. Government (State Department);
      • International Institutions (United Nations);
      • Country(ies) Impacted (Japanese Government, U.S. Embassy, Japan);
      • Field-based (NAFSA, URMIA, Forum on Education Abroad); and
      • Regional - other study abroad programs based near your U.S. or International Campus
    5. Provide Information for Faculty, Staff, Students, and Parents with Perspectives, Links, and Advice on Response
    6. Have Emergency Communication Plans in Place
    7. Maintain Quality Insurance and 24 Hour Emergency Assistance Coverage
    8. Have a Contingency Fund for Special Support and Extra Costs Associated With Emergencies, Including Program Cancellation
    9. Have Emergency Cards and Other Emergency Information Readily Available in Multiple Locations for Faculty, U.S. and International Staff, and Students
    10. Develop Emergency Action Plan, Practice Your Plan (with All Partners - Faculty, Staff, Students, etc.), Update Your Plan, Practice Again

Following are links to several resources that may help your institution develop its Crisis Management Team, Crisis Management Plan, and policies and procedures.

Impact on Students
The Center strongly suggests that institutions provide information to parents and students, including travel and country-specific warnings provided by the U.S. Department of State. The Center also suggests you seek additional information from international sources in the European Union, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and from the United Nations. (Please see below for links to these resources).

As program support varies from institution to institution, it is recommended that you develop a method for monitoring the situation daily, reviewing the possible impact of heightened political unrest on students and programs, and updating emergency plans accordingly. Develop a process for deciding whether or not to cancel programs in affected areas, reviewing transportation plans, or postponing pending study abroad programs in certain areas due to a potential threat of physical violence and bodily harm. For students returning from affected regions, inquire as to whether your institution encourages students, faculty, and staff to receive a check-up at your campus health center or with a private counselor for psychological issues resulting from the stress of responding to a crisis abroad.

Other Information Resources

U.S. Government Resources:

U.S. Department of State

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Radiation Emergencies CDC has a key role in protecting the public's health in an emergency involving the release of radiation that could harm people's health. This site provides information to help people protect themselves during and after such an event. It also provides information for professionals involved in planning for and responding to this type of emergency.

Canadian Government-Travel Report Provides updated information and Canadian Travel Warning for Japan.

United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office Provides travel advice and fact sheet on current situation in Japan.

Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Travel bulletin for Japan.

Center for Global Education's Resources:

Other Resources:

We look forward to hearing from you if you have any additional suggestions on ways to respond effectively to this and other situations abroad.


Gary Rhodes, Ph.D., Director
Safety Abroad First - Educational Travel Information (SAFETI) Clearinghouse
Center for Global Education
UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies
8907 Math Sciences Building
Box 951521
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1521
Tel: (310) 206-5376