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Risk Management in an Uncertain World: Expect the Unexpected

Nick Vasquez
Nick Vasquez, International Travel and Security Manager

Nick oversees all aspects of emergency communications and 24/7 emergency response related to university-sponsored international travel, monitors international developments and assesses risk for overseas travel for students (undergraduate and graduate), faculty and staff who go abroad on university-sponsored travel. He is also the emergency management expert on campus for international students and scholars and is their main point of contact to assist them in the event of a campus emergency. He also works to create and strengthen partnerships across the university, in the local community and with overseas institutions. Nick came to William & Mary from a career in the federal government which included positions in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Department of State and Department of Defense. His previous work included overseas postings in the Middle East, the Balkans and most recently, South America. We asked Nick to share his observations about his role at William & Mary and the world:

Risk Management in an Uncertain World: Expect the Unexpected

I have been at William & Mary a little over 3 years. My job has been nothing like I expected. Before I interviewed here, I talked to several people in similar positions across the country and asked them for their successes and challenges. Their responses helped shape my first years. For most of the first year, I listened to faculty, staff, and student concerns in regards to traveling abroad; however; over the last two years, the climate around the risks of overseas travel has shifted away from traditional risks towards mental health challenges and sexual assault support services. Program assessments and reviewing student travel are still a large part of my responsibilities, but making sure students are prepared to face the challenges and anticipate the errors and pitfalls of travel to unfamiliar environments is what I think makes the Reves Center so successful.

Assessing Risks on Location

On behalf of W&M I’ve visited Kenya, Uganda, Israel, and Spain. I went to these sites because W&M sends students there. I was surprised at the hardships that students were willing to endure for weeks and sometimes months on end in some locations to gather research or do community service outreach. It shows to me that they travel overseas because they want to do good in the world, and the travel is not just so they can put it on the resume, but rather an obligation to help where help is needed.

Collaborating Across Campus

I work with all 5 colleges at the University. Campus partners include the Counseling Center, the Dean of Students Office, Campus Police, the Emergency Management Team, the President and Provost’s office, Office of Student leadership, the Charles Center, Community Engagement, and AidData and ITPIR.

I am Reves’ representative on W&M’s Emergency Management Team. We convene on a monthly basis and we often have exercises and drills that help us better understand the challenges of managing our resources when an exercise is conducted. We recently had a simulated active shooter drill with live actors and our emergency services were put into action. We learned a great deal about strategically placing our limited resources in the areas where they would be most effective during a crisis.

Collaborating with Other Universities

This is probably the best way to keep up with current trends, bounce ideas off other experienced persons, and get reliable information on programs and other best practices that help keep our students safe.  I have also collaborated on two separate occasions with colleagues on presenting at national conferences. This job would be impossible without national collaboration.

W&M as an International Leader in Risk Management Best Practices

The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) is an office within the State Department that provides security cooperation within private, public, and academic sectors and the U.S. Department of State. I arranged to bring their annual conference to Williamsburg this year. It was the first time William & Mary had hosted it. The conference was well attended by universities, insurance and security companies. Hosting this conference signaled that William & Mary is a leader in the field of travel security and more importantly, we are heavily invested in the best practices of keeping our students, faculty, and staff safe and healthy overseas.

In addition to hosting OSAC, I was one of only three university representatives in September at the European Regional Security Conference in Paris, a joint conference of the OSAC Overseas Security Advisory Council and International Security Management Association (ISMA). The program included presentations from security experts representing government, businesses, non-governmental organizations and academic institutions, followed by extensive question and answer sessions. Topics included:  Building your Crisis Response in Europe ; Counterterrorism in Western Europe; Use of Drones; Radicalization in the Workplace; and Brexit: Impact on Security & Cooperation.

In September 24-27 in Miami I was invited to speak at the Society for Collegiate Travel & Expense Management (SCTEM) Conference in Miami. As an example of the range of my responsibilities, in Miami, I addressed the issues surrounding DACA students and Immigration issues such as the Travel Bans.

The Value of Experience beyond Higher Ed

When I was hired in April 2014, I was the 30th person in this position across the country. A little over 3 years later and there are 100 in our group. We collaborate on a daily basis and the backgrounds of our group is very diverse. While most still rise up through the study abroad ranks, there are a number of military, diplomatic, and intelligence community members who have successfully made the transition.

I think that my professional experience has set me apart from my colleagues at other universities. I have been able to leverage my past experiences and contacts in the federal government. For example, I knew a consular officer in Nepal at the time of the earthquake in April 2015, who enabled me to more quickly locate and secure a member of the W&M community during that crisis.

Emerging Concerns and Issues

Mental health issues are getting a lot of attention and getting students and faculty the right resources to triage a mental health emergency. Since Reves is not able to be on the ground for every program, it’s important we get the right information and resources to our program directors and faculty members who accompany students.  

Another issue which is emerging for students travelling overseas is terrorism. While I have never personally mentioned terrorism of any kind in my orientations (because the odds of being caught up in a terrorist-related situation are very minute), the increasing frequency and target locations have changed, it has been one of the issues I review closely, and evaluate what to do if students are victims of a terrorist incident.

William & Mary’s New Travel Policy

It was essential to have this policy in place. The travel policy adds a layer of protection for our travelers and the university. If we know for sure where our people are, we can more quickly react to an international crisis or natural disaster in areas where W&M students are located. An institution is only as strong as their policies, and  this is an important document for W&M. (The Policy is posted on the Reves Center’s website.)