March 13, 2019

Missing Student Protocol: When and why it’s implemented

It does not happen often, but when a Warrior goes missing, Wayne State takes it seriously.

Recently, on two separate occasions, Wayne State students were reported to the university as missing. University officials wasted no time implementing the Missing Student Protocol. Through Wayne State’s broadcast messaging service sent to mobile phones and emails, posting on the wayne.edu homepage and sharing through social media, Wayne State quickly got the word out that one of its own may have been in trouble. In both instances, information flooded in that led to the almost immediate and successful location of the missing students.

“Here’s the thing about this protocol: We don’t have to do it. We do it because we are concerned about the safety of our students,” said Michael Wright, vice president of marketing and communications, chief of staff and head of the university’s Crisis Management Team. “We put it together because we care so much about safety we want to be prepared for any eventuality. It may not even be time to file a missing person’s report. But we don’t care because we want to find this person.”

Wright, who has been with Wayne State for 11 years, said there have only been four missing students during his time here. The Missing Student Protocol is somewhat new, created and implemented in 2016. It was after receiving an Amber Alert that gave pause to university officials about Wayne State’s preparedness for such an occurrence.

“We asked ourselves, ‘Do we have any way to notify people if there’s a missing person at Wayne State?’ We have more than 27,000 students; it’s a possibility,” Wright said.

In response, the university’s Crisis Management Team, during one of its regular meetings, sat down and mapped out a series of steps that would allow the university to be more prepared. The team did not realize just two weeks later, on a snowy Sunday night, they would need to put the Missing Student Protocol into action.

“Within a half hour, there were thousands of hits,” Wright said. “We ended up finding this student because we released his picture, along with a description and where he was last seen. It’s all about speed of communication. If we think there might be an opportunity to help somebody, keep them safe, that’s when we spring into action.

“We err on the side of caution and safety, not with protecting our reputation. Our priorities are in this order — safety, property and reputation. If we take care of number one and number two, then number three takes care of itself.”

For Wayne State University Police Chief Anthony Holt, making a parent or loved one wait the standard 24 hours to file a missing person report isn’t an option. Oftentimes, Holt said, he receives a phone call from someone worried about his or her child or friend. He immediately uses all the resources at his disposal to help locate the student.

“Twenty-four hours is the standard protocol, but we start 24 seconds after we’re notified. I understand their concerns, and we take it very seriously,” Holt said. “I follow a WSUPD in-house protocol even before it rises to the university level. I look up the last time the student used their OneCard, what time they left a parking structure or, if necessary, I’ll ping their phone to find their location. And if it’s not in our jurisdiction, I reach out to the relevant police departments to see if they can do a welfare check on the person.”

For one of his recent efforts, Holt received a fruit basket from a parent as a thank you for helping quickly locate their student. But for him, Wright and the rest of the Crisis Management Team, it’s all part of the job.

“When you send your student down here, we take care of them,” Holt said. “From President M. Roy Wilson on down, we at Wayne State University are always concerned about student safety and their whereabouts.”

All reports of missing students should be directed to the Wayne State University Police Department at 313-577-2222. WSU Police will also notify the local police department where the student was last reported seen, if other than on campus. Wayne State students, faculty and staff are also encouraged to sign up for the Broadcast Messaging Service that delivers campus safety alerts and other significant messages directly to mobile phones and emails.