Global Engagement Solutions for Higher Education


During COVID, Syracuse Finds Innovative Way to Use AlertTraveler

May 4, 2021


Syracuse University had just deployed AlertTraveler, Terra Dotta’s traveler safety and security solution, when the pandemic hit. Students went home, and the usefulness of AlertTraveler seemed, at first, to be muted at best.

Syracuse was still using the tool for its intended purpose. AlertTraveler sends students abroad real-time alerts about emergencies on the ground and lets staff quickly verify their safety and communicate with them. But it wasn’t at the scale initially expected. Only a handful of students have remained abroad—not the hundreds of students Syracuse expected to be serving through the app.

But, in the past year, COVID has triggered plenty of creativity and workarounds. And Syracuse’s staff found an innovative way to use AlertTraveler to meet its needs — tracking students who travel domestically.

At the start of the spring semester, as COVID rates were in flux in different parts of the country, Syracuse administrators barred students from leaving central New York state except for essential family reasons. Among a student population of about 22,850, many might be traveling at any given time. It also launched required weekly COVID testing of students to help fend off transmission of the virus on campus.

If students failed to comply with the weekly COVID tests, Syracuse limited their access to campus resources, including WIFI. “That was absolutely huge, and the best motivator we could come up with,” said Seth Tucker, Director of Global Safety and Student Services at Syracuse. The compliance rate shot up to nearly 100%.

But students who were traveling would sometimes find themselves facing loss of access to WIFI and other services because they were out of town and missed their scheduled COVID test appointment. That’s where AlertTraveler came in.

Syracuse worked with Terra Dotta to set up a system for students to use the app to select their reason for travel, where they’re going and their departure and return dates.

“The tool was fantastic because you can create reasons for travel on the fly,” he said. “We created a reason for travel — Essential Family Travel — and we asked them to select a reason for travel and to fill in their travel data.”

To about eight people across campus, including the Dean of Students, Tucker granted access only to the data from AlertTraveler so they could track who has registered their travel. Syracuse staff can then grant the traveling student an exemption from the weekly COVID test and ensure that their services, including the all-important WIFI, are not cut off.

“That particular use has been essential to allow us to address student travel this spring,” Tucker said.

Tucker is hopeful that Syracuse can start using AlertTraveler for its intended purpose more often. In spring 2021, Syracuse students were back in Florence to put their robust Covid plans to the test. “Happily, we have not had a single case thus far,” he said enthusiastically. In the summer, the university intends to operate in London, Madrid and Florence. And, by fall, Tucker hopes the study abroad program will have returned to more normal operations.

In addition to helping Syracuse staff sort out domestic travelers during COVID, Tucker sees another upside to his innovative use of AlertTraveler: It’s provided a chance to raise awareness of the app across campus. Now students who need to use it in the future are familiar with it and may be more inclined to use it when they study abroad.

“We’ve had this golden opportunity of having this mass exposure to the system,” Tucker said. “The question that I’m spending a lot of time thinking about now is how do I capitalize on the awareness and get people using it in the right way and the way we want.”