Zachary Frieders didn't want to cut short a study abroad program in Egypt this summer. But when the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory last week during the military's ouster of President Mohammed Morsi, he set in motion a process that spirited 10 college students to safer ground.
Even if nothing more went awry, it wasn't worth the risk, says Frieders, associate director of the Education Abroad Center at the University of California-Davis. The students, who for the most part were required to stay in their dorms, "would have just been sitting there watching stuff on TV for two weeks and that really isn't a mission of our program."
As more Americans travel to far-flung corners of the world, crisis management has become a standard part of doing business for companies, colleges and other organizations that have international operations. The potential risks for travelers abroad include medical emergencies, natural disasters and, increasingly, political unrest. That has brought a spike in demand for specialists in providing emergency medical care, security and managing adverse transportation conditions.
In a survey of more than 1,400 company executives, conducted every other year since 2007, political unrest and uncertainty broke into the top 10 risks facing their organizations abroad for the first time in 2013 and is expected to rank even higher in the near future, says London-based insurance broker Aon. A separate Aon analysis, published in May , found that 44% of 200 countries it studied were at risk of political violence. Egypt ranked as the country most at risk.
It's not that the world has gotten more dangerous -- it's that more people are traveling to areas they once avoided, says Scott Bolton, Aon's director of crisis operations. "The differentiating factor is the fact that the West is in these places more often," Bolton says. "Organizations are more and more going into the developing world, where governments are more unstable."
Last week's events in Egypt "weren't of the highest level, as far as danger is concerned," says Lynn Pina, spokeswoman for EuropAssistance USA, which arranges travel assistance in emergency situations.On July 4, one student in the UC-Davis program flew to Istanbul and nine others boarded a commercial flight to Paris. One of those students stayed in Paris, and the other eight arrived in the USA the next day.
Angelica Hernandez, 23, a UC-Berkeley senior who was part of the UC-Davis group, said the evacuation orders were not a surprise, but she was disappointed nevertheless. "It was a possibility we had in the back of our minds," she says. "I have extreme respect for the Egyptians, whether or not I agree with their politics."
Students received partial credit for their time abroad and some of their tuition back, and the course will continue online, Hernandez said.
Frieders says he doesn't regret his decision to bring students home -- especially now that violence in Cairo has escalated. This week, more than 50 people were killed and more than 300 injured when Egyptian soldiers and police clashed with Morsi supporters.
Some students participating in other programs chose to remain in Cairo.
George Washington University recommended that junior Anum Malik evacuate July 4 with the International SOS security firm. A security guard would have escorted her to a hotel next to the Cairo International Airport, where she would have stayed the night before leaving the next morning. But Malik, 20, persuaded her parents to let her stay until July 18, her planned departure date.
"This experience is really once in a lifetime," she said in an interview conducted via Skype. "I don't think I'll ever really find myself in this kind of revolution again."