Risk management in the context of Hotchkiss settlement

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Risk Management and Experiential Program Design in Education

ann mccollumBy Guest Contributor, Ann McCollum, Experiential Program Design Expert

A sound approach to managing risk in travel and experiential programs is to pursue excellence and to practice industry standards and preferred practices . . . rather than “how to avoid a lawsuit.”  That said, Hotchkiss School’s recent $41.7 million settlement over a student contracting encephalitis on a China trip should get your attention.  (See New York Times: Conn. Student Disabled on School Trip Wins $41.7M New York Times: Conn. Student Disabled on School Trip Wins $41.7M)

Potentially preventable? Yes.  There are few things that could have been done to prevent this event.

First, the school’s pre-travel risk management plan should have included a risk assessment of the area to be travelled.  The assessment would have identified the risk:  in this example, that they were to walk in a wooded area that was infested with ticks.  First decision point – should we go?  Based on what you know, if you decide to go, take steps to manage the risk.  Again in this case, instruct and supervise the students to apply repellant with at least 30% Deet, wear long sleeves and long pants, and do a “tick check” at the end of the day.  Any of you who have heard me speak have also heard me state, “The worst thing that can be said is, ‘That didn’t have to happen.’”

Vaccinations and the CDC

The disease the student contracted was tick-borne encephalitis (TBE), and there is no vaccination available in the US, according to the CDC website.  However, the CDC’s Traveler’s Health website is an important and valuable resource which should be consulted before any trip overseas.  For any worldwide destination, the CDC offers specific advice on staying healthy and recommended vaccinations.

On a very basic level, your plan should include:
1.    Risk assessment and identification
2.    Informed decisions
3.    Risk management plan
4.    Implementation and follow up

The disability that student and her family must live with is a greater tragedy than the school’s financial liability – with brain damage and the inability to speak, their lives have been affected forever.  Please pull attention to your risk management plans off the back burner and seriously consider a thorough risk management assessment of your programs. 

Connect with Ann:

Ann McCollum Consulting, LLC
Risk Management and Experiential Program Design in Education
[email protected]

Twitter: @programriskmgmt
Twitter: @AEESC (AEE Schools & Colleges)

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