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Student safe room: How one company is making America's classrooms bulletproof

It was devastating to watch, but all too familiar: Students run into bulletproof classroom shelter17 students ...

Posted: Apr 28, 2018 12:49 PM
Updated: Apr 28, 2018 12:49 PM

It was devastating to watch, but all too familiar: Students run into bulletproof classroom shelter

17 students and staff were shot and killed at a Florida high school in February; a scene America is getting used to, but never wants to see, especially close to home.

"It's not something I envisioned worrying about as much as I do now," said Richelle Jones, a mother of two in Virginia Beach.

Jones' daughter Alyssa attends Brickell Academy and her 5-year-old son will be in kindergarten next school year. The climate, Richelle admits, is much different than when she grew up.

"You take your daughter, your child to the bus stop and you have to worry about if they're going to be safe the entire day," she said.

In Jones' opinion, arming willing and qualified teachers is the best solution in keeping schools safe.

Of course, not everyone will agree with that approach, but while that debate raged following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a video showing students running into a classroom shelter racked up millions of views on Facebook.

"Shelter-In-Place is a bulletproof, storm-proof shelter that goes inside classrooms and any other common areas in the school. It's designed to be 30 seconds or less away from any student," said Casey Elliott, Vice President of Sales for Shelter-in-Place. "It's made from hardened ballistic steel."

There's also a camera that lets those inside know when the outside threat has passed.

Elliott told News 3 the idea for the Utah-based company came from tragedy a little more than five years ago.

"Sandy Hook happened in December of 2012 and less than six months later, a tornado hit Plaza Towers Elementary School in Oklahoma," said Elliott. "[Shelter-In-Place] founder, Jim Haslem, was sitting there watching the news [and] he thought there's gotta be something better to do to protect kids in schools."

A bulletproof shelter is what Haslem came up with. He even tested the shelter himself; sitting inside while AK-47s fired at it.

"It barely makes a dent," said Elliott. "These things are built to be tanks."

According to Elliott, schools are starting to catch on.

"We're in two districts in Oklahoma. Those are both kind of our pilot districts," he said. "We've received over 2,000 requests from our website alone. I believe I've seen a few from Virginia."

As Virginia Beach Public Schools set out to review security, Superintendent Aaron Spence says a number of options are on the table.

Yes, he's heard of Shelter-In-Place... and he has some concerns.

"I've looked at that device. I think I would ask some questions about how it helps or impedes the learning environment," Spence told News 3. "Also, the cost of that across 5,000 classrooms and how is that going to impact our ability to do other things."

When it comes to the learning environment, Elliott says the shelters are designed to look innocent and be used in educational ways. They're made to have carpet and benches inside. On the outside, they can be dressed like a tiki hut or a fort or have the school colors, he said.

As for the cost...

"It averages out to be between elementary, high school and middle school about $1,000 per person," said Elliott.

If you take the average class size in Virginia Beach into consideration that would be at least $20,000 each. If you put one in every classroom in the district, it would cost $100 million.

"One thing we tell schools is, even though it is a larger upfront investment, it will last forever," said Elliott. "We're also working with government to come up with some ways to sort of help pay for this."

In the end, the company says their goal is to get the shelters into as many classrooms as possible. Yes, there is money involved, but lives too, Elliott is quick to point out.

"I think this is the one solution with all the gun debates and can't argue with it."

For right now, it's not something being seriously considered by local schools we reached out to...but in the future?

"If our panel tells us that's the best possible solution to making our schools safe, then that's something we'd certainly have to consider," said Spence.

"If they're going to invest the money into it, I think a metal detector would be far more practical than building a bunker in a classroom," said Jones. "The one place I think it could be extremely practical would maybe be the cafeteria."

Either way, it's hard to argue with bulletproof.

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