Centre for International Experience


What is the Role of the Emergency Contact?

Emergency contact should be someone that you designate to act as your contact with home.  They should have knowledge of your itinerary, copies of your important documents and be able to provide support to you in case of an emergency.

Provide your contact with:

  • Itinerary for your sojourn
  • Medical and eyewear prescriptions
  • Access to emergency funds
  • Important telephone numbers (ie credit card company, contacts)
  • Instructions of what to/ who to contact in an emergency

The contact should be prepared to:

  • provide support during a crisis;
  • help contact friends, family;
  • access accounts/ transfer money in an emergency;
  • answer collect calls any time of day;
  • asset in providing information/ take action if items lost/stolen;
  • other tasks you agree upon.  

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Who is qualified?

Someone you trust.  Your contact at home is indispensable in an emergency situation.  In some cases, they may be trusted with your bank accounts and personal information.  As such, you should choose someone with whom you have had a relationship that is long term and not subject to change.

Choosing one's boyfriend or girlfriend may not be the best option.  Remember that you may be going away for a significant period of time on a life altering adventure.  As such, things can change.

Someone who will be in-town the majority of the time that you will be away.  To be of use to you in an emergency, your contact has to be accessible.  As such, choosing someone who will be out of town for a significant period of your sojourn may not be the best candidate.

Someone who will react well in an emergency.  Your emergency contact should be someone who you know will react well in a case of an emergency.  You should also be equally assured that they will act in your interests and follow any instructions that you may have.

Someone who is willing to take on the responsibility.  The role of emergency contact can be quite extensive.  Make sure that the person understands the responsibilities and is willing to follow through on them.  This means taking phone calls, at any time of day and taking actions on your behalf.

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Power of Attorney

Power of attorney is a legal document signed, usually in front of a notary public, by you and an appointee giving certain rights to that person.  Such limited powers may include:

  • ability to transfer funds, sign over cheques;
  • sign OSAP documents;
  • access academic or institutional info while you are absent;
  • filing tax returns

Other Sources of Help in an Emergency

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Canadian Embassy

Prior to going abroad, Canadians can register with the embassy.  This is recommended for those who will be outside the country for more then 3 months or those travelling to areas that have a potential for problems.    Consular service abroad can range from replacing a missing passport to arranging emergency medical assistance.  In case of an emergency, contact the nearest Canadian embassy or call:

  • Canadian citizens outside Canada can call collect to(613) 996-8885.
  • For calls originating in Canada and the U.S., call 1-800-267-6788, or (613) 944-6788.
  • You can also communicate with us via TTY by dialling (613) 944-1310.
  • Contact the Consulate directly via their online e-mail form.
  • You can also reach the Operations Centre by e-mail at: sos@dfait-maeci.gc.ca.

If you are not a Canadian citizen, contact your Consulate. It is important to do this early on in your investigation, will in advance of departure. If you are wary about the services provided by your Consulate, contact your program advisor to discuss your concerns.  

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Host Organization

In the majority of emergency situations, the best help will be at the local level. If you are going overseas with an organization it is important that you understand their emergency operations. Ask for a copy of their safety guidelines and their emergency protocol. Attend all pre departure sessions that the organization offered.

Find out what kind of support the organization can offer you, and what steps they will take to assist you in an emergency.

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University of Toronto

There will be some site locations, however, when the facilities that are available will be inadequate. In the event that you need assistance but cannot obtain it locally, contact your program sponsor/ advisor at U of T or the University's Safety Abroad Advisor.

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It is unlikely that you will need to be evacuated from your site. Students going to a high risk destination should consult with their activity sponsor (e.g., academic supervisor) to develop an emergency plan. However, it is something that all travellers should prepare for. Participants residing overseas should know in advance the location and the route to nearby hospitals, Canadian government agencies, and the airport. Make sure that the hospital facilities are recognized by your medical insurance. Once you arrive in the country, mentally mark out these routes noting landmarks that will make it easier for you to find in an emergency.

Evacuations should be considered in the event of

  • Medical emergencies
  • Natural disasters
  • Political unrest

Prior to evacuation, if possible, contact the Department of Foreign Affairs and the University of Toronto. Try to organize yourself with other participants and travel as a group  

In the unlikely event of an evacuation, consider the following precautions—

  • Establish emergency routes to nearest hospitals, Canadian Offices and airports. Devise alternative routes.
  • If travelling in a group, establish a meeting point in the event of an emergency.
  • Book earliest available civilian passage out of the country.
  • Ensure that you have all documents needed.
  • Close any bank accounts, finalize any business (if prudent) and inform local contacts of intentions.
  • Prepare for a long wait at the airport.
  • Have a hole-up plan.

(Canadian Universities Reciprocal Insurance Exchange, 2003)

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