Escape Plan in Place?

..  Do you have an evacuation plan ready to implement should it become necessary to make a quick escape due to political or social upheaval in your current country of residence? Many International Educators I know are under the impression their school will take charge in such a situation and fly them to safety. Disconcertingly, a majority of international schools have no such evacuation plan in place–it’s every man for himself.

Believing your embassy will take care of you if an emergency exit becomes necessary can lead to a false sense of security. At least, that’s been my experience as an American living abroad. Following 9/11, the entire staff of the American embassy in Lahore, Pakistan was the very first to jump ship. The same was true in Guatemala after a military overthrow of the government. In the D.R. Congo, military/rebels could easily shut down the only road to the airport, requiring a seriously strong Plan B.

The American embassy serves primarily as an information and advisory body. Its recommendation is that if a crisis arises, US citizens should make plans to leave on a commercial carrier. In the event it does becomes necessary for the US embassy to organize an evacuation, Americans are required to sign a promissory note saying they will cover the of cost their flight “on a reimbursable basis to the maximum extent practicable.” So much for putting my US tax money to good use!

My school in Pakistan took responsibility for getting us out soon after 9/11. They set the staff up with a travel agent and covered the cost of our exit flights. In Guatemala, with military tanks in the streets, helicopters patrolling and radio/TV/phone communication shut down, we were on our own. This school had previously offered no support for anything, so we had no reason to believe things would change in an emergency. The director lived just doors from me. He was unavailable.

The speed and regularity at which the global-political climate is changing can suddenly make a country that was relatively safe when you arrived a hot-spot to be avoided. Believing/hoping that your school or embassy is willing/able to take care of you in an emergency could be putting all your ‘safety’ eggs in one basket. A good question for a director while recruiting could be: “What’s your plan, if necessary, for an emergency evacuation?”

ISR Asks: Does your school have an emergency evacuation plan in place? If so, how practical is it, and is there a solid Plan B? Have you created a personal plan for yourself and your family just in case you find yourself on your own?

16 thoughts on “Escape Plan in Place?

  1. Considering these things often catch Governments off-guard, one can hardly expect school administrators to get overseas people out as a matter of priority, especially not when in the case of war – borders are immediately closed, curfews are in place and airspace restricted to military planes. One just has to hope that the school has a sound relationship with the local ambassador/s and is at the top of the list when it comes to evacuation.


  2. Happy to say that my school, located in a country with recent history of natural disasters, has a plan A, B, and C. In the event of another major quake, the school becomes the rally point for all staff. In the event that’s unsafe, we rally at a nearby military base. Designated coordinators fan out to assess damage, not just of the school but also the staff housing around town. We return to our homes once an engineer determines it safe to do so. Temp housing in the meantime.

    New staff is debriefed on this plan the week before school starts, so we are all familiar.


  3. I lived in Bangladesh for several years, which is a restless and tumultuous country with lots of security hazards. My school took safety very seriously and was constantly in the loop with several embassies about current developments. There was an evacuation plan, evacuation insurance, and all kinds of contingency planning. It was all handled quite professionally, and there was considerable support from admin in all matters of security, even to the point of providing dedicated security personnel in exceptional situations.


  4. I worked in DRC and Islamabad and they both had plans set up. The US embassies were excellent with information and what to do if any problems arose. We had a 2nd level evacuation when I was there, the teachers didn’t leave, but non essential embassy people evacuated.


  5. As a recent addition to Venezuela I came here knowing that the country was not stable. My director last month came to me and informed me of the plan that the company has in place. Fortunately I do not live in Caracas, I live in a smaller town hours away. But at this point things are heating up. Martial law is going into effect, food shortages will continue due to protestors and the military blocking roads. I am aware that at any time things could get super crazy super fast so I pretty much stick close to work and home. I try not to venture out to far and I keep a low key.


  6. Best to create your own evacuation plan. I always had USD cash ($2000) + local cash, 2 liters water, passport, basic survival gear, and 2 changes of clothing in a back pack for grab and go. If it was a country where dressing local made me invisible I also had 1 set of “native” clothing. In an emergency minutes count as borders close quickly. You can bet locals will need to help their families–NOT you. Embassy staff plans fall apart when embassies are overrun. Best bet is often to head to nearest border crossing and bribe to get out. This is the voice of experience talking by the way.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. The three schools I worked at in Kuwait,Mexico and Germany all had varying plans for emergency evacuations. The best plans were in Germany of course and involved us flying to neighbouring Switzerland or Austria. The worst was in Mexico where we were told to make arrangements and the school ¨might¨cover us. I was the warden for the Canadian embassy in Mexico, whose responsibility was to advise Canadians about where to go and how to get help from the embassy in an emergency.
    The Canadian government provided free flights back to Canada in an emergency or at least to a safe zone or city in Mexico. Many US citizens asked to be taken out on these Canadian flights because their embassy had no plan in place.
    We were never evacuated from Kuwait but some of our close friends were and they flew to Europe, stayed in an hotel and were brought back to Kuwait after the war was over, at no expense to themselves.


  8. I have asked directors at a recruiting fair if they have an evacuation plan in place. Some took it badly and saw the question as a personal affront. The ones that took it seriously and had given some thought to emergency procedures were the ones who had other important facets of heading a school in order.


    1. Ha, ha, I can well believe that. However, you were perfectly correct to ask the question and if they take it as an affront, ask how much they care for staff welfare?


    2. Would you be willing to share the names of the school or at least the countries where those admin responded negatively?


    3. Overseas schools bear NO responsibility for your personal safety. Some embassy sponsored schools may have “evacuation” plans in place. To ask about emergency evacuation plans is a very odd question at an interview. As a school administrator I would never consider hiring someone who asked such a question. It makes the teacher look nervous and unprofessional. Does that teacher need a “nanny state”? Gee perhaps they are high maintenance and need everything the same way as their home country. Aren’t they interested in curriculum or school related things? What a nervous Ned/Nelly! Do you see what runs automatically through my admin head when that, “What emergency plans does your school have?” question is asked? The reality is I can try to put plans in place but operating conditions overseas are NOT the same as in Western countries.


    4. Since we don’t know where you are, there is no context by which to evaluate your rather callus comment. I assume that your assertion that “Overseas schools bear NO responsibility for your personal safety” extend to your campus as well. Please let us know where so we can factor that in to our life decisions about where (and whom) to work.


    5. If the schools are in a risky, hardship location you absolutely SHOULD ask about their contingency plans. Especially if it’s an elite embassy school. If you’re expected to risk your life to protect your students the least a school could do is put together an evacuation plan in case of unrest, war, or natural disasters.
      If the school is located in a city like Berlin then maybe it’s not so appropriate. I’d stay clear of any admin and boards that don’t see the value of looking out for fellow ex-patriate colleagues. It is their duty to provide safe living and working conditions and it should also be reflected in your contract.


  9. Lets be real. By the time trouble “strikes” most airports will have closed their airspace. I live in a “hot spot” where cautionary notices are regularly sent to those of us living here (to the effect that the embassy does not advise our citizens be in the country) and this has been the case for the 6 years that I have lived here. No one forced us here and no one forces us to stay. Our school has plans in place, they update us regularly and often seek the embassy input … but again, being real…you know what they say about the best laid plans.


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