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Foundation started by Virginia Tech shooting victim aims to improve school safety

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

Seventy-two. That's the number of mass shootings in the U.S. since just the start of this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. And for a lot of survivors, every new incident brings new pain.

KRISTINA ANDERSON FROLING: When events happen, for example, in the month of December, I think about how the holiday season will be forever different for those families, and the same for, you know, Valentine's Day and things like that.

KHALID: Kristina Anderson Froling was shot three times at Virginia Tech in 2007. She used donations sent to her family to start the Koshka Foundation. It's a nonprofit dedicated to helping prevent mass shootings and improving campus security. Our colleague A Martínez spoke with her.

A MARTÍNEZ, BYLINE: Kristina, President Biden has said that gun reform is a priority for his administration. But with a divided Congress, change will likely be slow, if it ever even occurs. What should schools be doing to try to prevent school shootings from happening?

ANDERSON FROLING: School safety is really a multilayer response. A lot of times after these shootings, we focus on the physical security aspects, which are incredibly important, right? We want to think about how we are letting folks into our spaces, what type of visitor management policies we have in place so that a disgruntled employee or a parent that shouldn't be there, or whoever else, cannot just walk into a space. And that's obviously difficult in open campuses and things like that.

But one of the big changes in our country that was really inspired and launched by our shooting in 2007 was this recommendation that we should create threat assessment teams within our schools which work collaboratively. They would have folks from mental health, education, the principal, law enforcement come together and really try to be able to hopefully identify some of these threats before they become violent and put plans in place to manage that behavior and really, ideally, keep that student or whoever is acting out safe and keep them in the school, but also keep an eye on them in case they escalate and want to carry out their attack.

MARTÍNEZ: In the case of Michigan State University, the shooter does not appear to have any connection with the school. How would a threat assessment team be able to deal with someone like that?

ANDERSON FROLING: There was research that the FBI did many years ago about school shootings - or, targeted school shootings - and they found that only about 10% were by people that had no connection to the institution. And a good colleague and friend of mine, Dr. Gene Deisinger, who works in this space, says during his trainings, that 10% is what keeps me up at night. That is much more difficult to prevent.

MARTÍNEZ: You know, the university, Kristina, that I went to here in Los Angeles is wide open. Anyone can just walk on in. And a lot of the public universities around the country are the same way. Now, some of the private universities, like, say, USC, University of Southern California - there are gates. They have security, ID checks, cameras. Should all public universities at this point start locking down?

ANDERSON FROLING: One are the biggest challenges - right? - of universities is maintaining that balance of being open and open to, you know, new ideas and learning. And it's hard to answer that question because every school is different, right? You really have to look at the institution and what's in place and what works best for them. But in general, yes. In general, we should be promoting people wearing IDs and badges.

I mean, this is very normal for workplaces, for corporations, right? You cannot walk into the headquarters of a bank or any other large company. And so I think it would be very, very beneficial, especially just to have that capability, even to lock a door, in our college classrooms.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. I mean, what does a school lose, a university loses if locking down is the best solution? You said it yourself. I mean, the whole point of a university sometimes is to promote the idea, like, this is open and accessible to everyone. But when there are gates and cameras, it almost goes against that feeling.

ANDERSON FROLING: We sometimes feel that gates and cameras make us feel really secure. For me, walking onto a campus that I feel like people are looking around; people will speak up if something seems suspicious. People will come to me and say, are you lost here? Can I help you? - putting up just a minimal ability to not be able just to openly walk into a large building or auditorium. I think it also signals that we have something to protect here, which is the people that are inside our school.

MARTÍNEZ: But it sounds like you're saying that at the very least, the feeling of being safe on campus goes beyond what we see with the eye - in other words, the gates, the locks. It goes beyond that. It's that something deeper, beyond what we see on a campus.

ANDERSON FROLING: I think that that true sense of safety is, how invested are we as an individual? Has this school really put forth a plan? Are there activities around safety and security? Does every person feel connected to that institution? And do they care enough that they will report a broken window or a lock that should be fixed?

Also, every campus police department is not armed. They really vary heavily across the board. But that is one question, right? Are they armed? What type of training do they receive? Because that dictates who will come. Is it the local department? Is it the county marshal, sheriff, things like that?

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. I mean, it's 2023. If I'm a parent touring a school with my kid, you know, I want to see a nice library. I want to see a great student union, but also, I want to know what the security situation is.

ANDERSON FROLING: Absolutely. And I would definitely look into - I mean, there's a couple of things you can do. You can go to the website of the campus public safety office, where you would find out, is it a sworn public law enforcement agency, meaning, are they armed? What type of training do they have? They often have free classes or mobile app solutions, you know, for the students, for the parents.

But I would look really closely at the website for the threat assessment team. Parents can reach out to the chair of the team, who is usually someone in a student affairs capacity, and just ask very broad questions. Tell me about your safety planning. Have you considered the locks, the doors, the windows, the internal threats, right? There is not one question that will - that they can answer to tell us all of that. But if you start with a really light, open-ended question, based on their response, you'll have a sense of how much force, how much time, how much thought they've put into this. And I think the onus is on us as parents to be more inquisitive about those questions.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Kristina Anderson Froling, a survivor of the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings. She also started the Koshka Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to helping schools, businesses and law enforcement prepare for active shooter scenarios and also to try to prevent them.

Kristina, thank you very much for your story.

ANDERSON FROLING: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE FLASHBULB'S "PRECIPICE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: February 16, 2023 at 10:00 PM MST
A previous version of the web summary incorrectly referred to a mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2017. It took place in 2007.