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Remote Field Sites Abroad: Additional Safety Considerations

Remote Field Sites Abroad: Additional Safety Considerations

Though there is no single definition of “remote,” you should consider your field site remote if it meets any of the following criteria: It is an hour's travel time or more from emergency medical facilities. It has limited or no cellular service or communications infrastructure. It involves difficult access/exit (e.g., cave, mountainous terrain, etc.).

Health and Medical Considerations

  • Confirm the location and services available of the nearest hospitals or clinics and have a transportation plan. You can identify GeoBlue-affiliated providers within a 100-mile radius of the town nearest your remote site using GeoBlue’s Destination Dashboard. Be familiar with GeoBlue’s medical evacuation coverage benefits and limitations.
  • Bring an unexpired, fully stocked first aid kit. Know what’s in it and how to use the contents.
  • Get trained or certified in CPR, first aid, and/or wilderness survival prior to departure.
  • Understand and plan for unique risks associated with your remote sites, including but not limited to lack of nearby medical services, extreme weather exposure, wildlife encounters, water and food safety, insect-borne illnesses, etc. Pack clothing and personal protective equipment appropriate for climate and research activities.
  • Identify and plan for your individual remote-site self-care and wellness needs with U-M’s Travel Health Preparation Guide and Resilient Traveling resources.
  • Note for Group Travel: Site leaders should have a process that allows participants to voluntarily disclose relevant health information to a travel companion, onsite staff member, or site leader if they need additional support. Common examples include sharing information about approved accommodations, prescription medications, allergies, and/or dietary preferences.

Communication Considerations

  • Carry a card with local emergency response numbers and contact information of all fieldwork stakeholders. Develop and maintain a fixed check-in schedule with contacts who are not in the field (in-country partners and/or U-M contacts). Check in even if there is “no news” to report. Make sure your check-in contacts know what to do if you miss a regularly scheduled check-in.
  • Confirm cellular communication coverage for your field site/s. If in doubt, anticipate being out of service range and plan non-cellular means of communication (e.g., satellite phones, two-way radios, etc.) with both field site participants and check-in contacts in-countryand/or at U-M. Even if you anticipate connectivity, have a backup means of communication in case cell coverage is spotty or disrupted. NOTE: Satellite phones are prohibited or controlled in certain countries. Verify legality in your destination/s before departure.
  • Consider a satellite messenger or personal locator beacon with an SOS function that can transmit your location in an emergency. NOTE: GeoBlue does not include Search and Rescue (SAR) insurance coverage recommended for these devices. Be sure to explore SAR options if needed.
  • Regularly test and perform maintenance on communications equipment. Make sure the batteries are charged. Bring extra batteries, chargers, or alternate power supplies.

Additional Best Practices to Consider

  • Familiarize yourself with your unit’s field operating policies and code of conduct if they exist.
  • Consider informing local authorities/contacts of the location and duration of your remote fieldwork.
  • Develop a written safety plan with field site information, risks and risk mitigation strategies, and emergency procedures. Share the plan with fieldwork stakeholders.
  • Vehicle safety is crucial. Conduct pre-trip vehicle inspections (e.g., check brakes, lights, signals, wipers, mirrors, horn, fuel, other gauges, fluid leaks, tire pressure, spare tire and changing tools, etc.) and perform necessary maintenance. Employ defensive driving techniques and take appropriate terrain or weather-related precautions. Avoid driving after dark. Never drive while tired. Always wear a seat belt.
  • Avoid working alone (i.e., out of sight or voice range) whenever possible.
  • Note for Group Travel: Students should never work alone in the field. Conduct fieldwork in pairs at a minimum. Implement a headcount procedure to ensure participants are accounted for at the remote site. Develop a response procedure in case of a missing participant.