About the Authors: Gina El Koury and Liza Petrush are consular officers in the Special Consular Services unit at the U.S. Embassy in London..
An embassy’s consular wardens play an integral role in assisting American citizens living abroad. Each U.S. post abroad has a network of volunteers in the community who live, work, study, or socialize with large groups of Americans. These volunteers, called “wardens” – aptly named after WWII air raid wardens – help us spread messages to the American community overseas. Because of their close ties to the U.S. expat community, wardens are often the fastest and most effective route to distributing information to Americans.
In early February 2009, Embassy London hosted 48 of our approximately 150 wardens for our first annual Warden Conference. This conference introduced the wardens to their Embassy counterparts, gave them time to network and exchange ideas, and provided them with training on how they would work with the Embassy to assist Americans affected by a crisis in the United Kingdom. Watch our video to hear their comments on being a warden.
In some places, such as London, the Department communicates with our wardens via email. In others, U.S. embassies and consulates use text messaging systems to alert wardens that information is available that they need to disseminate to the Americans in their care. In some countries, we might rely on radios or satellite telephones to stay in touch with wardens in more distant locations without the infrastructure to support email or text message communications.
In the United Kingdom, we often rely on our wardens to disseminate Embassy information regarding critical events with security and safety implications for the American community. In other locations, the warden network might be activated to pass Americans emergency messages regarding evacuation meeting points or areas of conflict to avoid.
Warden messages are only one part of the State Department’s Consular Information Program, which is designed to provide Americans with the background they need to make informed decisions about traveling abroad. More information about the Consular Information Program, as well as the services U.S. embassies and consulates can provide to Americans overseas, is available on the Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs travel information website.