Global registry puts Penn travelers on the map

Where in the world are Penn students, faculty and staff?

That is the simple, yet not-so-simple, question that a team from the Office of the Provost, the Office of International Programs, the Risk Management and Insurance Department, the University General Counsel and Information Systems and Computing (ISC) set about to answer last year.

The team knew that because of Penn’s commitment to global engagement, many members of the Penn community travel abroad in groups or as individuals to conduct research, attend conferences, participate in a wide variety of service projects and to take part in cultural and educational activities. But until now, there has not been a simple way to keep track of who is doing what where.

To remedy that situation, the team decided to create a digital Global Activities Registry to collect information about Penn initiatives around the world, with the ultimate goal of making pre-travel planning, scholarly collaboration, tracking and emergency notification easier to manage.

Using input provided by a cross-section of faculty, administrators, students and others who would have reason to use the registry, the team developed an interactive website designed to meet the needs of various constituencies. The site was piloted over the summer and launched last month at www.upenn.edu/globalactivities.

“Before, we only knew about people’s travel plans on a case-by-case basis,” says Jim Cunningham, senior IT director with ISC. “We saw this as a way to start gathering data about international programs and international travel.”

One of the primary functions of the registry is to quickly locate Penn faculty, students and staff in case of a natural disaster—such as this year’s earthquakes in Haiti and Chile—or in the event of civil unrest overseas.

But, says Erika Gross, director of risk management for International Programs, the registry is also a helpful tool to provide participants with important pre-travel information; to chronicle what sort of research is being done by Penn in different regions of the world; and to determine whether other members of the Penn community might be traveling in the same region at the same time.

By registering on the website, travelers are also automatically registered with International SOS, an organization that provides the University with global medical assistance and security services that include emergency evacuation.

“We wanted to create a robust knowledge base of what Penn is doing on an international level,” says Gross, adding that the site allows both individual travelers and Penn groups to enter information that ranges from a description of their activities abroad, to itineraries and emergency contact information that is accessible only to those affiliated with the University.

At the site, users will find an interactive map of the world dotted with red flags indicating where Penn groups have traveled in the past six months or intend to travel in the next six months. By rolling over the flags, users can quickly see what type of activity is taking place in Europe, Africa, Asia and other regions.

There is also a list of Frequently Asked Questions that further explain who should register on the site, how to register and what other services the registry provides. In addition, the site offers links to related travel resources on campus such as Penn Abroad, Penn Travel Services, the Office of International Programs’ Travel and Research page and Penn Summer Abroad.

“We want this to be more than just an emergency response site,” says Gross. “We want the registry to be a place where people can see the big picture of what Penn is achieving globally, and a place where the Penn community can support Penn’s efforts around the world.”

Developers of the registry are encouraging all Penn travelers to make use of the new website, and say they are eager to receive feedback about it.
“This is an ongoing project,” says Cunningham. “We will continue to develop it.”

To ask questions, or to comment on the global registry, email globalact@lists.upenn.edu.

Originally published on October 28, 2010