One survivor of the Virginia Tech massacre relied on technology to turn the past tragedy into positive action for individuals across the country.
Kristina Anderson suffered three wounds as a 19-year-old student at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, the day a gunman claimed the lives of 32 people during the worst school shooting in American history. Years later, she partnered with a team at LiveSafe to launch a cell phone application that allows college students, faculty and staff to connect with emergency services without dialing 911 or speaking to an operator.
“It felt like a very natural step. How do we positively remember the lives that we lost, but also continue to make schools safer?” Anderson, now an alumna of Virginia Tech, said Monday on “NewsNation.”The main screen of the tool provides users with four options. One feature allows participants to submit tips through a message by capturing photographs, videos or audio recordings of various emergencies, ranging from disturbance and vandalism, to assault and suspicious activity. Other components provide buttons to dial 911 or campus security and to locate the nearest emergency service stations. Additionally, users can choose a contact to message about their location, tracked by a GPS.
“Most of these attacks are preventable and people have information in advance,” Anderson said. “They have to be more proactive because the truth is, this is unfortunately a reality as we know, day in and day out.”
Security personnel at the Savannah College of Art and Design implemented the tool last September with an accompanying marketing campaign. Officials have seen an increase in usage in the past four months, said John Buckovich, director of security at the college.
“It definitely has increased the communication between our students and security,” he told msnbc. “Obviously it’s more preferred if someone calls, but we know that a lot of people won’t do that, especially if they’re reporting suspicious information.”
A user’s message sends an instantaneous audio notification to safety officials, who then are able to begin communicating with the individual. About 60% choose anonymity, another feature of the app, said Jenny Abramson, chief executive officer of LiveSafe.
“For us it was about how can we better communicate with our students?” Buckovich said. “If you can get the community involved, then you definitely increase opportunities for crime prevention and to solve crimes.”
Users at multiple schools across more than 10 states have downloaded the tool since its inception last fall, Abramson said. The app is currently available on college campuses, but the Virginia-based company is also introducing the tool in other settings, including military centers, shopping malls and sport facilities.
One concern about the resource was individuals using it to report false details or non-emergency situations. But those instances haven’t occurred, Abramson said, because users realize they have the power to prevent horrific events.
Cell phone owners can download the app for free on Android or iPhone devices.
The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012 renewed a nationwide debate about gun control, including an unsuccessful push by President Barack Obama to enact more regulations on firearms.
Gun violence continues to take the lives of Americans across the country. More than 40 school shootings occurred in the 14 months after the Sandy Hook massacre, according to a report published in February. Similarly, horrific events have taken place recently at locations across the United States, including a Maryland shopping mall, Colorado movie theater and Washington, D.C. Navy Yard.
“I see this as the future of public safety because under-reporting is a tremendous source of loss,” Abramson said. “In a couple of years, every person will have a way to use their smartphones to keep themselves and their communities safer.”