Egypt Turmoil Provides Risk Management Lesson for Evacuated NYU Students

NU Online News Service, Jan. 2, 9:09 a.m. EST

It’s critical that risk managers with staff and locations abroad make sure their contingency plans are up to date and workable, said the risk manager of New York University, who on Sunday evacuated students and staff from Egypt following political turmoil in the country.

Michael Liebowitz, director of insurance and risk management at NYU in New York City, said 60 students and staff working at an archaeological dig campus in Egypt were safely evacuated in two groups.

“International evacuation operations [are] always on my radar screen, because I have so much going on,” Mr. Liebowitz told NU Online News Service during a cell phone call from Abu Dhabi.

“Every time we have one of these kinds of incidents, maybe one or two a year, we go back and look at what went wrong," he said. "We look at what worked, what didn’t work, and we break it all down.”

He added, “But it absolutely becomes part of the process to improve the way we are able to provide for and manage the exposures. The ultimate goal of my risk management program is to foresee what would impede the university from reaching its goals.”

Mr. Liebowitz, a past president of the Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS), said the university has students, faculty, and staff all over the world. He noted that those who go to locations such as Egypt “go in with a lot of information.” The key, he said, “is knowing who is there and exactly what their itineraries are. And that’s the big nut to crack, because people don’t always want to tell you.”

He said that while corporate America does this very well, with higher education, it’s a little different. But he noted the process is evolving. “In fact, we’re looking at our global travel plans and how we do things like procure travel for our students, faculty, and staff.”

The idea, he explained, is to “know where your people are, but have the intelligence in place to monitor the global world and identify where you might have to evacuate people.”

Next on the list, he said, is contacting them. Because employees and students may be in remote areas, “we always want to know their communication links. Whether it’s by cell or Internet, we want to be able to communicate with these people.”

He added that those involved with this evacuation have learned a valuable lesson. “They know what’s necessary now,” he said. “The contacting piece will be in the debriefing.”

Mr. Liebowitz said the decision to evacuate was made Sunday afternoon, adding that “at this particular point in time, the State Department has not issued a mandatory evacuation from Egypt.”

His advice to risk managers? “You can never second guess what’s going to go on around the globe. We live in times of significant natural disaster and political volatility, and we have to be aware of everything that’s being thrown at us as employers who have people that travel.”

Mr. Liebowitz concluded, “You’ve got to be prepared. Keep exercising your plans and making sure they work while identifying the pieces that don’t.”

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