New protocol could ease the search for missing students

Suzi Starheim

Communication is key, officials say

Emily Schaefer said she would definitely know if her roommate was missing.

“My roommate and I usually tell each other where we are going, and we sometimes meet up for lunch and dinner,” she said. “We pretty much know each other’s schedules.”

This closeness of roommates is not often something the university can count on if a student is reported missing though, Residence Services Director Betsy Joseph said.

The new missing student protocol, put in place this summer, allows students to identify an individual to be contacted by the university no later than 24 hours after the time the student is determined missing.

Though the protocol is in place, reports are often made even when students aren’t really missing, Joseph said.

“We have always had a system in place to report emergencies and missing students,” she said. “More often than not, we got phone calls from parents who have not been in contact with their students in an extended period of time, and we often have to track down the student.”

Joseph said resolving those types of missing student reports is as simple as having a residence hall staff member going to the student’s room and reminding him or her to call home.

Joseph said while the residence hall staff has means of locating students, the police are always heavily involved in any reported cases of a missing student.


To register confidential contact information in the event of an emergency the following steps should be taken:

&bull Log in to your FlashLine account and click on the Student Tools tab;

&bull Find the second box in the left column titled: Update Personal Information;

&bull Selections in the Update Personal Information box include: Emergency Contact Information and Emergency Contact Updates;

&bull Select one of the options and then either edit the existing information in your emergency contact address or input the contact information for the person you want to be contacted in the event of an emergency.

Christopher Jenkins, lieutenant of investigations at the Kent State police department, said the protocol has established a more consistent and cooperative effort throughout the entire university community in the case a student is reported missing.

“Once the report is taken, we actively pursue learning about the person,” he said. “We try to get as much information from the person making the report as we can, especially information about the last time they saw or talked to the missing person.”

Jenkins said the police also investigate any change in behavior of the missing person and where the person last went.

“We look at the total circumstances surrounding the person missing,” Jenkins said. “Did they have an argument with a roommate and left for the night and left a cell phone behind? Did they go to study at the library and their cell phone is turned off?”

Throughout the entire investigation of a missing student, Jenkins said the police department actively tries to track down the student’s location.

Joseph said the university does, too.

“If a report about a missing student is very serious, we could check to see when was the last time they used their key card and meal plan,” Joseph said. “Those are usually very helpful to identifying when the last time the student was in the residence hall or buying food.”

Jenkins said while the police treat every case of a missing person seriously, reports of a missing person are often made because of a lack of communication between the student and the person making the report.

“We’ve had many reported cases of missing students only to find that they weren’t necessarily missing, they just weren’t in constant communication with the person who made the report,” Jenkins said. “This is the case more often than not.”

Schaefer, a freshman nursing major, said while she doesn’t know her roommate’s family very well, it helps they have the same group of friends and keep each other updated on their whereabouts.

“When one of us goes home for the weekend, the other always knows,” she said. “If I thought she was missing, I would go to our resident assistant first.”

Jenkins said students should always let someone know where they are or where they can be reached.

“As a student, I wouldn’t really advertise where you’re going to be on the social networking sites – that is sharing too much information with the general public,” he said. “Share that information instead with the people close to you so that they know where you are and have a way of contacting you.”

Joseph said in addition to a student letting someone know where he or she is going, providing the university with emergency contact information is crucial to keeping the protocol working effectively.

“I think it’s always important, whether you are at school or in the workplace for a full-time job, for your employer or school to have an emergency contact number,” Joseph said. “It is a prudent way to operate so we know who to contact if something happens to you.”

Contact safety reporter Suzi Starheim at [email protected]