University confirms students in Chile safe after earthquake

Jameson Pitts

The International Office confirmed UT students studying abroad in Santiago, Chile, are safe and accounted for after an 8.3-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast on Wednesday.

University officials said they are prepared for the large-scale disasters students could and do encounter around the world. In this case, strict building codes and improved preparation eased the toll of the quake and tsunami events in Chile, which left at least 13 people dead and four missing.

Jess Miller, international risk analyst for the International Office, said the university contacted all students studying abroad in Chile, Argentina and Peru after the earthquake. The International Office declined to provide the exact number of students studying in Chile because of regulations in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act .
“We have a fine-tuned process in place that we use to guide our responses in varying types of incidents and disaster situations,” Miller said. “We also give students a lot of information up front so that they’re prepared.”

Sarah Talaat, journalism and psychology senior studying in Santiago, received an automated message from the University asking her to check in, even though her study abroad program was not organized by the International Office. Talaat said the earthquake felt mild at her inland location and prior preparation and the earthquake-resistant design of local buildings made her feel safe.

“My host family was incredibly calm, and that really helped me stay calm,” Talaat said. “My program also gave us training on what to do in the event of an earthquake, so having that background knowledge would have been useful in the event of a greater problem.”

Lidia Gallegos, Chilean exchange student studying at UT for the semester, said she was grateful the damage was minimal in Santiago, where her family lives, and said Chileans are raised to be ready for earthquakes.

“We get so used to them that since we’re little, we know the procedures,” Gallegos said. “But there’s always the fear that a little earth movement could start
an earthquake.”

The University uses phone, Internet and emergency contacts to verify a student’s safety and provide them with resources during a disaster. Miller said the University contracts with an emergency services provider, which can evacuate students if the provost decides it is necessary. Federal regulation also limits who the University can notify about students’ safety status.

“We all get together to discuss exactly what’s happening before going forward,” Miller said. “UT decided to evacuate travelers after the 2011 tsunami in Japan, and also evacuated students during the Arab Spring.”