Center for Global Education Logo
The Center for Global Education promotes international education to foster cross-cultural awareness, cooperation and understanding. Living and working effectively in a global society requires learning with an international perspective.

We promote this type of learning by collaborating with colleges, universities and other organizations around the world.
SAFETI Adaptation Of Peace Corps Resources
    SAFETI Adaptation Of
    Peace Corps Resources
    Resource Guides
Crisis Management Handbook - Introduction

(Adapted from the Crisis Management Handbook: A Guide for Overseas Staff, Peace Corps Volunteer Safety Council)



A crisis is any significant event with potentially severe consequences that requires immediate action or response. For the purpose of this Handbook the focus will be on crises of a regional or national scope. The types of regional or national crisis posts may encounter include:

  • Accidents
  • Natural Disasters
  • Civil Unrest
  • Political Uprisings
  • Environmental Catastrophes

All of these crises have several aspects in common:

  • They can result in a disruption or early termination of the program, or the closing of the study abroad center or university in the country.
  • They usually cause significant emotional stress to the individuals involved, resulting in predictable cognitive, physical and behavioral reactions.
  • They can be managed.

Crisis management is the process of preparing for, mitigating, responding to and recovering from a crisis situation. It requires (1) an organized plan to ensure the safety and survival of self and community, and (2) an understanding of the human response to stress. Crisis management is a dynamic process that begins well before the critical event and extends beyond its conclusion. As all those in the field know, there are many kinds of crises, from natural disasters to accidents and injuries to civil unrest, riots, and military coups. Each stage before, during and after a crisis presents special challenges and requires different strategies for effective management.

  • There should be on-site staff and/or faculty in each country responsible for supporting the safety and well being of all students. To that end, that person or group of people should do whatever is necessary and possible in a crisis to protect students. This responsibility may, at times, appear to conflict with the values or respect for the student's individual autonomy and independence. In matters relating to personal safety, the authority of the governing body (e.g., college or university study abroad program, the U.S. State Department, Program Administrator, Embassy, national policy) will supersede the individual wishes of students. While every person responds to and deals with crises uniquely, there is little time "in the heat of the moment" to negotiate the handling of a crisis. Students must quickly heed all orders to respond. Therefore, they need to understand the reality of "autonomy vs. authority" before an emergency occurs so they are prepared to follow the procedures designed to help them.

Experience has shown that preparation, communication and certain administrative procedures are essential in managing a crisis. The same experience has also highlighted the importance of creativity, innovation and the exercise of sound judgment in the face of chaos, absurdity and human frailty. This handbook provides crisis management guidance based on considerable research and decades of Peace Corp experience. It is intended as a resource for the study abroad program administrators in the US and abroad to augment decision making and management skills. The core for the Handbook is presented in three chapters titled Before, During and After the Crisis.

The first chapter, Before the Crisis, will provide strategies to help:

  • Develop an Emergency Action Plan (EAP)
  • Rehearse the Plan
  • Implement a warning system
  • Continue to test and update the Plan

The second chapter, During the Crisis, will discuss how to:

  • Mobilize and activate the plan
  • Coordinate with other agencies
  • Support students and staff

The third chapter, After the Crisis, will give advice on how to:

  • Debrief all victims (direct, indirect, hidden)
  • Return to normal
  • Continue counseling and support as needed
  • Reassess hazards
  • Revise the Emergency Action Plan


A number of barriers may arise to challenge preparedness efforts. The following are some examples.

There is often a general apathy toward emergency preparedness. Lack of public awareness of the threat and a tendency to underestimate the risks involved are major contributors to apathy about preparedness. Competing priorities with daily demands, lack of confidence in the effectiveness of preparatory actions, and ambiguity about who is responsible for preparing also contribute.

Disasters and crises are different form routine emergencies. Program administrators and staff are assigned new and unfamiliar duties in a crisis. Everyday procedures and priorities are altered as are divisions of labor and resources. In addition, different agencies are required to work together in ways not previously required.

Good communication is essential and almost always a problem. The amount and types of information people need before, during and after a crisis increases significantly form the norm. Lack of standard terminology and everyday "people problems" can lead to misunderstandings, inaccurate information, and misinterpretations.

The "Paper Plan Syndrome" can give people a false sense of security. The Emergency Action Plan is an illusion of preparedness unless accompanied by training and practice.


Overseas staffs with crisis experience have suggested some strategies that can be effective in overcoming these barriers to preparedness.

Plan for the most likely hazards or crises. Use recent experience to fight apathy. Preparation for more common crises is more likely to receive public support and be cost effective. People pay attention to what they see as relevant. Preparing for likely hazards also provides a training ground for dealing with other emergencies.

Develop a basic Emergency Action Plan with response requirements that would be applicable in any situation. While it is impossible to prepare for all contingencies, basic steps must be taken in all emergencies that can be practiced and perfected. Examples are communications, health concerns, information management, transportation, prioritization and coordination, and food and water resources. Key roles must also be defined and assigned to specific individuals or groups.

Develop a flexible Emergency Action Plan that progresses in stages with clear indictors for progression from one stage to another.

Practice, practice, and practice the Emergency Action Plan.

Integrate emergency actions into normal routines. Reporting procedures, communication practices, prioritization and coordination can all be integrated in a standard set of procedures so that they are second nature in times of emergency.

Involve the users of the Emergency Action Plan in its development and implementation. Users of the plan are not limited to program administrators, staff, and faculty both at home and abroad, but also other agencies, local government officials, and anyone who might have a role or responsibility in carrying out some part of the plan. The importance of a coordinated process in developing the plan cannot be over-emphasized. It facilitates coordination during the crisis itself.

The Emergency Action Plan must look at the big picture. The Emergency Action Plan must take into account all the organizations and persons involved in coping with a crisis. These might include the US Embassy, host country governments, police and military, airport officials, telecommunications, travel agents, news media, missionaries, local hospitals and clinics, etc., and of course, the college or university/study abroad program offices. This is the time to look at the effect of an evacuation on host country nationals and contractors, so that they can be aware of what the college or university/study abroad program can and cannot do for them, and plan accordingly.

In summary, emergency action planning and crisis management are processes involving an entire system of people and organizations.

(Adapted from the Crisis Management Handbook: A Guide for Overseas Staff, Peace Corps Volunteer Safety Council)