Colin Watters

Q&A: Colin Watters on Helping Keep Travelers Safe

What do you do in your role?

I support the students, staff, and faculty traveling abroad for the Global Projects Program (GPP), in addition to all WPI faculty, staff, and students traveling on other WPI-sponsored travel. My role primarily supports the GPP and, as a result, I work closely with the fantastic team at the Global Experience Office (GEO) on all risk, health, safety, and security issues. That includes developing protocols for GPP, training on risk mitigation, and managing incident response in collaboration with GEO and our excellent on-campus partners who support our students on a daily basis.

How do you assess and manage travel risks around the world?

At The Global School, we are fortunate to have experienced faculty as project advisors and center directors within the GPP who often have significant experience at their project centers; they help assess and mitigate potential risks at their sites. The GEO staff are well-versed in navigating travel risks. We also identify potential country-specific risks by leveraging information provided by WPI’s international travel, medical, and security assistance partner, International SOS (ISOS), other intelligence gathering providers such as Global Guardian, Factal, GardaWorld etc., and information from the U.S. State Department to ensure we take the appropriate care to reduce travel risk. Additionally, I am a member of the PULSE network, a group of safety and security professionals specifically working in higher education, which provides further guidance and benchmarking on other potential risks.

What types of activities, training, and resources do you provide to WPI community members before and during travel to help keep them safe?

Prior to travel, students in the GPP complete several online courses through Canvas, and receive pre-departure training and site-specific orientation. They also register their travel with ISOS. During travel, students receive travel and security notifications from ISOS or directly from GPP staff/faculty advising them on how to mitigate any specific risks that may affect their location.

Before departure, our faculty and staff receive advisor training that is health- and safety-focused, along with retreats and support from the experienced teams at the Student Development & Counseling Center (SDCC), Health Services, the Title IX Office, and the Legal Office. For those outside the GPP, I work closely with student clubs and organizations, in addition to staff, students, coaches, and faculty on travel sponsored by WPI. I assist travelers with risk assessments, housing assessments, and provide health and safety orientations about the resources available to them. 

GEO and I also maintain a duty officer rotation 24/7 throughout the year to act as incident responders during A- through E-Term travel. If an incident should occur, we work with our on-campus support partners (such as the SDCC, CARE team, Health Services, Sweet Center, and Dean of Students Office) toward a resolution. That said, managing risk is primarily an individual traveler’s responsibility, and I always advise our travelers to be aware of their surroundings and to avoid unnecessary risk when possible. Step 1 is to register your trip.

Why is the registration policy for international sponsored travel important?

WPI has an International Travel Risk Policy in place for all students, faculty, and staff engaging in WPI-sponsored international travel that requires the travelers to register their travel on the WPI MyTrips Travel Registry, to update the registry if their travel plans change, and to be contactable while traveling. Additionally, students are required to sign a Participant’s Statement of Agreement prior to travel under this policy. For travel to countries that are designated as high-risk (as defined in the policy), an approval process is required prior to traveling and, if approved, an Assumption of Risk and Travel Waiver must be completed.

Registration is important. Once registered, all WPI travelers can access critical international insurance coverage and emergency medical and security assistance during their travels.  International travel registration also allows ISOS to send registered travelers automatic alerts of incidents impacting their destinations. Registration pre-authorizes travelers to use the medical, security, and travel services of ISOS while abroad. If you are not registered, you will not receive any notifications and our team will have no knowledge of your location or potential risks, which can cause delays in assisting you when you most need it.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Managing my inbox and ensuring that I am responding in a timely manner to faculty, students, and staff who often have immediate decisions to make on their travel plans.

What part of your job gives you joy?

I thoroughly enjoy working with The Global School and with my colleagues at WPI. Being part of the team that brings an incident to either a successful resolution or the best possible outcome, given the circumstances, is the most rewarding aspect of my role.

Where’s your favorite place to visit in the world?

Since I am from Ireland, I have to say that my favorite place is home to see my family and friends. There is no better place to be than Ireland when the sun is shining—that leaves the other 364 days to travel the rest of the world! I have had very memorable and fulfilling experiences in Italy, France, South Africa, Lebanon, Cuba, and, most recently, Iceland, where I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.

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