Tracking Travelers When Disaster Strikes


Being able to pinpoint the location of travelers when an emergency strikes is extremely important. That was especially true for the University of Pennsylvania during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The task of tracking travelers was made easier by our “Global Activities Registry,” a web-based tool that is part of Penn’s plan when it comes to travel assistance.

Penn knew that identifying students and faculty in the event of a crisis was an essential part of its Duty of Care. Departments at the University worked together to create this registry, where travel itineraries are saved into the “Global Activities Registry.” That list is then transmitted to International SOS, Penn’s travel assistance provider, and placed into its TravelTracker system. Students and faculty automatically receive pre-travel advisories, as well as medical and email alerts. We also know where they are if we need to find them in the event of an emergency.

To get the attention of students when we first launched the registry, they could enter a contest to win an iPad. We also spread the word through advertisements, brochures, orientations and websites – any avenue where we could promote this tool. Post the Japan earthquake and tsunami, Penn’s Provost issued a letter making it mandatory for all students traveling abroad on University-related studies, as well as faculty who are taking students with them abroad on University related business, to enter their travel itineraries into the Registry. In the past twelve months, we have had over 3,800 entries in the system.

When disaster struck in Japan, we were able to quickly identify 98% of all faculty and students who were in the area (approximately 270). If we hadn’t had the Registry, it would have been a very difficult and labor intense process to identify travelers. With this knowledge, the safety of our students and faculty was much easier to ascertain and confirm. In addition, emergency contacts who needed to be identified were available in one centralized tracking source. For more information, feel free to listen to the webinar recording here.


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