Create An Emergency Response Team

Winter break means Mission Trips for many youth serving organizations throughout the country.  Unfortunately, lack of planning results in poor responses from many youth leaders both on the prevention side, as well as the crisis response.

When it comes to foreign travel injuries, it shouldn't surprise us that there are a significant number of serious injuries that occur each year overseas.  Just pause for a second and think of the types of

activities that travelers are involved in:  construction, hiking, mountain climbing, bluff jumping, scuba diving, white water rafting, and the list goes on.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tracks and reports on the activities which cause the most frequented injury deaths to U.S. citizens traveling abroad (see graph).

In my experience working with organizations throughout the country, few are prepared in-country to deal with an onset serious injury, not to mention the crisis response occurring on the ground back home.

In order to assist the Mission Team Leader to respond to an emergency situation or crisis, I recommend pre-determining an Emergency Response Team to respond to all levels of emergencies.  The following is a list of examples for Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 emergencies.

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Lost documents/money/flight

Alcohol/drug abuse


Lost participant

Arrest/Criminal Charges

Epidemic outbreak

Minor accident/injury/illness

Assault (sexual/other)

Hostage situation

Petty Theft

Family Emergency


Road Accident

Injury/Illness -serious

Natural/human disaster

Traveler Discipline

Travel Delay

Medical Evacuation

Political/civil unrest


 *Kanakuk Foreign Emergency & Crisis Plan

The Emergency Response Team will be the first responders to assist the Mission's team from a crisis response perspective. This team is a decision-making group who will review a crisis situation to determine the next steps for any group traveling overseas. In the event that a parent or family member needs to be contacted, someone on this team will handle that responsibility.

Before the Mission team departs, the following is required:

  • Read the emergency response plan in its entirety and keep it with you throughout the program.
  • Clearly communicate all activities that take place on the program, whether as part of the scheduled programming or free time.
  • Inform all participants about health, safety, emergency preparation, and cross-cultural issues that could affect them. Document all orientation sessions and the content covered
  • Identify a Co-Leader in advance if something happens to the team leader. He/she can assist with program implementation and should be advised on how to respond to an emergency in-country.  He/she should have access to this plan and be able take leadership for the group if the Team Leader/s become separated or incapacitated while overseas.
  • Strongly consider the risks when choosing to include any high-risk activities for your program, such as scuba diving, white-water rafting, mountain biking, bungee jumping and similar activities.  Unsupervised swimming can also be considered a risky activity

Rick Braschler is a Senior Risk Consultant, Subject Matter Expert, and Director of Risk Management with over 23 years of experience in youth protection systems.  Contact Rick at

Sherri Weiss is an independent safety consultant and registered nurse specializing in youth protection systems.