As parents and school officials search for peace of mind in the wake of recent shootings, a Centerville-based manufacturer thinks armored classrooms might be a safer alternative to armed teachers.
International Armoring Corp. says it was approached last year by two school districts, including one in northern Utah, to create inconspicuous doorway barriers that were sturdy enough to stop bullets from an assault rifle. Their answer: Safeboard, a tracked panel that can slide over a doorway and be locked from the inside. When it's not fighting crime, it's a slightly inelegant whiteboard.
"We're not trying to incite fear in people," says Andrew Burton, Safeboard project administrator. "It's kind of like an insurance policy. â¦ It will save lives in those attacks."
IAC's bread and butter is armoring vehicles, for which they are paid between $65,000 to $85,000 by customers around the world. CEO Mark Burton told The Tribune in 2012 that a foreign head of state once survived after being shot at 100 times in one of IAC's armored vehicles, and that the 8,000 vehicles they've sold have endured 300 attacks.
The same material they use in those vehicles, Armormax, will be used to manufacture Safeboards. And it's pricey. The prototype they've created would cost schools $1,850 each. Multiply that by tens or hundreds of classrooms, and that cost could be prohibitive.
"Anything that's ballistic is not known to be cheap," Andrew Burton says. "We tried to use the least amount of armor to save on [cost] for the schools."
Burton acknowledges that Safeboards aren't going to render a student population invincible. But, he says, they certainly won't worsen an active shooter situation a possibility if teachers are armed and encouraged to open fire. He's also working with a handful of school districts in Utah and elsewhere to refine the prototype so that they can lower production costs through mass production.
Davis Schools Risk Manager Scott Zigich says the IAC prototype has stood out from the competition for its unobtrusiveness, the quality of the armor and its protected lock. He says Davis is still in the process of determining whether it's a worthy investment, but IAC has his attention.
"The frequency of these intruders in schools and public places is on the increase," he said. "We see what's going on, and we're reacting with preventative measures. They've got a good concept, and we like where they're going."
According to The Associated Press, schools in Minnesota, North Dakota, Maryland, Pennsylvania and California have purchased bulletproof whiteboards made by Maryland-based Hardwire LLC. But the handheld, 18-by-20 inch whiteboards are unlikely to be effective, Burton says.
For starters, they can only protect one, or maybe a few people. Also, a shooter can just aim at your feet. Security consultant Bill Nesbitt, of Security Management Services International, told The Associated Press in April that the whiteboards could give people a false sense of security when they should be trying instead to leave the scene.
IAC has another prototype in the works, a roughly $5,800 corner partition that otherwise appears as two whiteboards. A whole class could pile behind the wedge and be protected if a shooter were somehow able to enter the classroom.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, less than 2 percent of school-age youth homicides occur at school, and the total number of homicides committed at schools were stable from 1992 to 2010. But the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last December was the worst of its kind, and it happened at a school that used relatively cutting-edge security measures.
Burton says research shows that the key is to give authorities time to respond to the shooting. Shooters aren't likely to just fire through walls at random. Doors keep them out, and if you can protect the door, it buys police precious minutes.
"The attacks are rare, we know that," Burton says. "But they are extremely damaging when they do occur. ... I can't imagine what it would be like to be a principal or a superintendent at this time."