April 17, 2018
“The Briefings: Resiliency and Recovery after a School Crisis” gathered emergency responders, those who have survived violent incidents, and officials who have responded to and prevented mass attacks to exchange best practices and hear from those who have experienced tragedy firsthand.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan sponsored the day-long event to address heightened concerns for safety in schools, in the wake of incidents in Parkland, Florida and Great Mills High School in Maryland. The Koshka Foundation, The Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety and Maryland Center for School Safety partnered to host the event at the Northern Virginia Community College campus in Alexandria, VA.
At the end of the of the conference, LiveSafe Co-Founder Kristina Anderson and Jason Dominiczak, a student EMT at the scene of the Virginia Tech tragedy, shared their experiences in a session titled “Lessons in Resiliency and Recovery from Virginia Tech”.
Anderson and Dominiczak addressed the room, teeming with administrators, public safety officials, and state officials. As they gave a clear and candid minute-by-minute account of the tragedy unfolding, the room grew overwhelming silent.
From incident to recovery, Dominiczak and Anderson carefully walked the audience through each stage. They shared their opinions on how agencies should coordinate logistics and communications , how non- medical personnel should handle patients, how officials should communicate information to family members of patients and what organizations can do to help victims and communities heal.
A vital aspect Anderson highlighted towards the end of the talk was preventing these acts of targeted violence from occurring in the first place. She underscored that threat assessment for preventing incidents was one of the most important changes Virginia Tech implemented upon the community’s return back to campus. Virginia Tech also published the book “Implementing Behavioral Threat Assessment on Campus” in 2009 as a guide to help other institutions of higher education create similar programs. The significance of providing communication pathways to surface concerns and potential indicators was another component of prevention that she underscored.
In fact, the history of the shooter did raise several concerns. The Report of the Virginia Tech Review Panel documents that he struggled with mental health issues. Yet there were subtle signs, non-criminal ones which manifested beforehand. According to Anderson, students commented on concerning behavior. For instance, the shooter requested to be addressed as “question mark” in class, he wore sunglasses while indoors, and took pictures of female classmates under tables. One former classmate recalled that his submitted writing assignments for an English class were deemed so “grotesque” and disturbing that they were not read in class. He was found “suspicious, creepy, or odd” among his peers.
During the presentation, Anderson drew attention to the fact that mass attacks often have indicators and are frequently carried out by individuals that have unresolved grievances and it is critical to educate others on reporting potential warning signs and possible grievances.
Despite the tragedy and trauma that Kristina and Jason experienced April 16, 2007, they imbue the spirit of triumph over tragedy, the ability to heal and help others through the journey they have endured. In sharing their experiences, Jason and Kristina elucidated the need for collaborative and comprehensive, communicative approaches to safety which are grounded in prevention and preparedness to make schools and organizations safer places to learn, live and work.
Kristina Anderson is one of the most critically injured survivors of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting that took the lives of 32 students & faculty and injured 17 more and remains the worst school shooting in modern U.S. history. There were at least 18 advanced warning signs of troubling behavior by the shooter, yet a centralized system for reporting and assessing potentially threatening behavior did not exist. And this was not unique – in virtually all instances of violence, abuse, and workplace injury, there have been signs of impending trouble, but people with important information have rarely come forward to supply critical information to safety officials.
Kristina co-founded LiveSafe, a startup company that believed new technology – a two-way safety communications infrastructure and a command and communication dashboard that could be leveraged to enable incident prevention in ways that current systems did not. Today LiveSafe has more than 200 university and corporate clients using their advanced incident prevention solution, and LiveSafe is building a nationwide community around preventing these incidents in the future.
Today Kristina runs the Koshka Foundation for Safe Schools, a nonprofit dedicated to helping first responders, local community and school stakeholders work together to prevent, respond and heal in the aftermath of school violence.
Jason Dominiczak* was the first tactical medic on the scene at the Virginia Tech Tragedy. At the time he was a senior at Virginia Tech and Captain of the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad, the second oldest all volunteer student-lead campus EMS agency. After college, Mr. Dominiczak spent five years with the Virginia Tech Police Department as a patrol officer, SWAT operator, Tactical Medic, Public Safety Diver and Firearms instructor. He graduated from the CONTOMS program and has taught tactical medicine to thousands of federal, state, and local tactical medics and physicians. He serves on the advisory board for Tri-Med Tactical and as Chairman of the Board for the Life Member and Alumni Association of the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad. In 2016, Mr. Dominiczak returned to Virginia Tech to receive his Master’s in Information Technology focusing on data science and analytics.
* Bio courtesy of The Briefings: Resiliency and Recovery After a School Crisis.