In a telling sign of the times, a company that manufactures lightweight armored passenger vehicles for heads of state, celebrities, and even the Pope is now turning to what it thinks may be a large new market: bulletproof barriers for school classrooms.
Developed in International Armoring Corporation’s Utah factory, the barriers, called Safeboards, are made to look like whiteboards or bulletin boards so they are unobtrusive in the classroom. In the event of a shooting, a teacher could manually slide and lock them in front of a door within a few seconds. Another version folds away from the wall to create a classroom safe haven that could fit up to 37 average-sized first graders. The Safeboards resist the bullets of high-powered rifles, like those used in a number of school shootings in recent years, says IAC's CEO Mark Burton.
Schools are already interested. The company began developing the product last year (before the Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut) after a few school officials near IAC's headquarters heard about its armored vehicle business and asked if there were any affordable products that could improve safety in the event of a school shooting. Bulletproof doors already exist, but they are more expensive and are very heavy, which can be problematic if a door is used by kids dozens of times a day, Burton says. The sliding Safeboard, made with the firm’s standard lightweight material, starts at $1,850.
Scott Zigich, risk management director at the 70,000-student Davis School District in Utah, recently went to see a demonstration of the technology with the school’s architects and police liaison, and says he would consider it at the district, though no formal purchasing decisions have been made. The district has already upgraded its alarms and camera systems but Zigich says that it is weighing additional measures.
"Just this week [the country] had a shooting at an airport, a shooting at a school, a shooting at a mall. We are very active in trying to increase the safety level of our students and employees due to the frequent nature of violent attacks," he tells Co.Exist.
A debate has raged around the country, especially since Sandy Hook, about appropriate defense measures for schools in a society in which guns are easy for almost anyone to obtain. Earlier this year, another company in Maryland developed smaller armored whiteboards that would act more like individual shields. And some schools have considered armed guards or even armed teachers. IAC CEO Burton believes guns as a defense weapon often do more harm than good in schools, and considers the Safeboard to be a less disruptive and cost-effective measure that could give a classroom under siege needed time until police arrive.
"This is whole new territory," he says. "It’s kind of a fine line to walk. It is a sensitive issue, but in some cases, I think it could save lives."
For budget-strapped schools, he says, "mainly it’s a financial decision as well as a political one." For a district as large as Davis, with 100 buildings, decisions would have to be made about which schools or which school classrooms merit protection. Over the lifetime of the product, Burton says, a Safeboard would cost about $5 a student, he says. IAC will also offer a financing program.
Even if only some schools consider bulletproofing their walls, Burton thinks the Safeboard will be a big business. "We know there’s 62,000 elementary schools in the U.S. and an average of 25 rooms per school. That’s a lot of classrooms," he says.