In the social media age, news travels fast – very fast. Twenty years ago, the internet was still in its infancy and social media was non-existent. Today, the average parent of a study abroad student, with discretionary time and a computer, can locate an extraordinary amount of information about the hazard landscape of their child’s destination country. You can also be sure if a safety or security incident happens, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter will inform them instantly.
Given the ease with which people around the world can communicate and access knowledge now, both parents and students expect that the administration is keeping tabs on their overseas programs and that if there is a problem, the administration is aware of it immediately. So how do program administrators keep up with all of the important news that is relevant to every country in which their students are traveling, particularly given the laser-fast pace that social media spreads a story?
There are a several ways to manage your intelligence information. A number of travel assistance providers offer risk assessments and breaking news updates. Additionally, some may partner with security information services. For example, International SOS works with ControlRisks. Another option is to purchase a stand-alone intelligence platform. Finally, there are some easy ways to put together a DIY option using a variety of free and open source platforms.
If your institution is operating programs in a wide number of countries and regions, one solution may be an intelligence monitoring platform, such as Global Momentum or red24. Such platforms contain up-to-date, extensive information about health, safety and security around the world. Both companies have large and experienced global teams of analysts and sophisticated data mining technology that produces comprehensive – and constantly updated – news feeds that highlight new and evolving risks around the world.
Both Global Momentum* and red24 can also be customized so that you only receive information relevant to the regions in which your programs operate. The Global Momentum platform is particularly user-friendly and easy to browse quickly, with three display modes to view information. Their “24x7 Risk Monitoring Dashboard” provides updated news feeds from around the world, the “Crisis Incident Map” shows how events are unfolding in space and time, and the “Real-time Situation Room” provides breaking news, social media feeds and other intel on any particular critical incident.
Global Momentum and red24 also provide breaking news alerts, as well as daily and monthly overview emails of incidents that may affect travelers. In addition, red24 is the intelligence partner for Terra Dotta’s new Alert Traveler app, which not only provides country intelligence to administrators, leaders and students but also can send real-time alerts and allow students to check-in. Watch out for our review of this and other safety apps in our next newsletter!
If your program is large and travels to diverse regions, one of these platforms may be a very worthwhile investment, but if your budget cannot stretch this far, or if you operate in just a few, lower-risk countries, you might be able to set up your own low-tech monitoring system for free. This type of solution won’t give you the speed and in-depth analysis of a professional monitoring system, and it will take more time and effort, but it’s certainly better than not doing any information acquisition at all. Here are some tools that may help you set up your own monitoring system:
· Symbaloo – This free app allows you to create your own dashboard/homepage. In addition, it allows for multiple tabs to further narrow the scope of information monitoring for easy access to information that may be relevant to your programs. For example, you might add local news channels for each region, weather forecasts, RSS feeds, twitter feeds, and other sources of local health, safety and security information that you can quickly browse to keep abreast of news and incidents. Although it takes a bit to set up, particularly because of all the pre-loaded links that need to be deleted, it is worth the effort.
· Emergency and Disaster Information Service (EDIS) is a platform based out of Hungary which provides a map of the world to monitor global events that may cause emergencies and disasters. It is powered by GoogleMaps and sourced through information in the knowledge database, automatically processed data and manually processed data. It allows the user to choose a region or simply zoom in on different locations. EDIS also has Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter links for easy monitoring.
· Weather alerts – Some countries offer SMS or email alerts for extreme weather events. Try googling the local meteorological service and see if they offer such a service where your programs are located.
· Google alerts – You can set up a google alert to be notified via email when a certain search term appears in the news. This is a slightly tricky tool to use to monitor news for a whole country generally, but if you can limit the search to a particular risk (say, hurricanes) then this might be useful, particularly for lower profile incidents that may not have yet made global news.
· RSS Feeds – You can set up your RSS reader to include news sources and information feeds for areas of interest relevant to your programs. For a handy guide to RSS reader apps, here is an article from Zapier.
*Lodestone Safety International is partnering with Global Momentum and can provide a free trial. If you are interested, please contact Lodestone directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.