Pre-trip precautions to minimize confusion, maximize communication

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Embracing the manifold educational opportunities of travel, Mike and Trish Rockett have taught their children how to explore the world. This fall, with the sunny sensibilities of many seasoned young people, 19-year-old Margaret Rockett was ready to gallivant throughout Europe with nine other co-eds.

Under the auspices of Pepperdine University’s International Study program, academic responsibilities of the 10 sophomores shifted from the University’s Malibu, Calif., campus to a satellite center in Lausanne, Switzerland. Situated between the Swiss and French Alps on Lake Geneva, idyllic Lausanne is known to be one of Europe’s safest cities, offering a wide variety of recreational activities as well as easy access by rail and air to other European cities.

As with many programs, there is a laissez-faire agreement between undergrads and the school. After classes conclude on Thursday afternoons, students are encouraged to meander Lausanne’s picturesque French-speaking village or trek to the destination of their dreams. Unfortunately, their most recent dream trip turned into a nightmare. It was Friday, Nov. 13, in Paris.

Like many European travelers intent on soaking in the sights and sounds of local culture, these young women traveled to Paris for a long weekend, blissfully detached from non-specific ideological threats of terrorism. The girls strolled casually, like locals, between cafes until frantic prompts from home shocked them into the numbing reality of immediate danger.

To the distraught parents and ladies it suddenly became clear that no previous travel experience had prepared them to cope with this particular crisis. There was no “how-to” manual, no pre-set approach from home, the University, or local officials on how to handle a terrorist attack. From Boston, the Rockett family scrambled to come up with a plan to lead the 10 frightened girls in the right direction. The question was, “What’s the right direction?”

In desperation, the Boston family called every number they could think of for help. Coordinating with the offices of Governor Charlie Baker, Congressman Seth Moulton, and Secretary of State, John Kerry, a phone SWAT team. After hours of anxiety, an on-the-fly plan of how to lead the girls to safety evolved. The girls were guided back to their hotel by a recognized taxi service, told to shelter-in-place together inside their hotel room with the door locked and shades drawn, then fly back to Switzerland, as scheduled, early Sunday morning.

The resources deployed by the girls during this crisis are tools the Governor, Congressman and Secretary of State strongly recommend all travelers adopt in advance of leaving home. Although some seem self-evident, each of these pre-trip measures might serve to minimize confusion and maximize communication should an emergency develop.

Until, a coherent crisis plan evolves, these safety tips should become standard:

* Enroll in STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) — this free service connects U.S. citizens traveling abroad with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Should a need arise, travelers receive important updates on safety conditions at the destination helping to make informed travel plans.

* STEP enrollment is also available for family members who are not traveling but want to receive designated regional updates in the event of a natural or terrorist crisis.

* Keep an ID on you at all times.

* Advise a travel agent, school or hotel of your daily itinerary.

* Fully charge all electronic devices. Keep a charger with you.

* Facebook activates regional Safety Check prompts in the event of disaster. Use it ASAP to advise family and friends of your status.

* Instruct phone carriers there are to be no interruptions of service irrespective of minute limits.

* Call credit cards ensuring unlimited cash availability during the crisis.

* In advance of travel, ask for the names and numbers of secure taxi service providers rather than rely on public transportation during an attack.

Margaret Rockett and her nine friends are among the lucky people who were physically unhurt in the recent terrorist attack in Paris. They are safely back at school studying for finals and writing papers in advance of returning home for the holidays.

Now, the families involved question Governor Baker, Congressman Moulton, Secretary of State Kerry and the President of Pepperdine University, Andrew Benton, “What concrete plans are being put in place to help students and other travelers when we are attacked again?” Without a clear understanding of risk, “Are these International Study Programs safe to pursue now? ”

Until the questions are answered, following the above travel tips are the best official safeguards while traveling.

Diane Kilgore is a Boston-area blogger.