According to most sources—including the National Crime Prevention Council, the U.S. Justice Department, and the U.S. Department of Education—school security is at an all-time high. Over the last several decades the rate at which children are victimized at school (bullied, robbed, physically assaulted, etc.) has plummeted. But by some measures the frequency and severity of mass shootings at schools appears to be climbing.
In the past 14 years Total Security Solutions has installed thousands of school barriers. Following each active shooter event, TSS has seen a sharp uptick in calls from anxious parents and families. More recently, they’ve noticed a sharp increase in questions about bulletproof products—often because concerned parents and community members have seen such items featured on local TV news.
Untested School Security Products
Regardless of the product—be it a “bulletproof blanket” or bulletproof clipboard or bulletproof backpack insert—these “bulletproof” school supply news stories have a common format:
- Reminder of the latest school tragedy
- A company spokesman (often local) describes how the last school tragedy inspired him to “do something to keep kids safe”
- Cut to a local shooting range; the news anchor straps the “bulletproof” backpack or clipboard to a target and sends it down range
- He fires at the product once or twice, and when the bullets fail to penetrate, declares this a success
- He shares the company’s contact information and web page address
“This just isn’t how you test a bullet resistant product,” explains Jim Richards, CEO of Total Security Solutions.
In order to earn a UL rating a ballistic material, component, or system needs to be reproducibly, verifiably tested under rigorous conditions in a nationally recognized testing laboratory.
More importantly, just because you make something out of a UL-rated ballistic material, that doesn’t automatically make the product bulletproof. Each product must earn its own UL rating.
“Imagine you take a piece of bullet resistant fiberglass tested and rated to UL Level 8,” continues Richards. “That’ll stop shots from an AR-15 or AK-47. But if you drill holes in it and bolt on a set of legs, that doesn’t make it a ‘bulletproof school desk’. Those bolt holes create weaknesses. The way you’ve cut the material may encourage delamination.”
Ballistic construction materials were developed, tested, and refined for construction purposes, to backstop walls. No one imagined that someone might spend hundreds of hours using these materials as desks. Leaning on it, loading it down with books—simple classroom wear-and-tear might compromise the material.
A Hunk of Bullet Resistant Material is Not a Bulletproof Shield
“We’ve seen a huge uptick in people contacting us trying to get small pieces of bulletproof fiberglass,” Jim explains. “Clearly, some of these families are thinking about a do-it-yourself bulletproof backpack or shield. Supplying them with these materials would be irresponsible.”
Bullet resistant materials stop the bullet from penetrating, but they don’t make that bullet’s kinetic energy disappear. Bullets fired from the sorts of rifles that have been used in the last several active shooter events carry the wallop of a bowling ball hurtling at 100 mph. When used properly, that impact is absorbed by the walls and framing surrounding the bullet resistant barrier.
Defending yourself with a scrap of bulletproof fiberglass is like trying to deflect a 100 mph bowling ball with a dictionary. It makes no difference that the bowling ball can’t penetrate the dictionary. The force does the damage.
“I don’t know who in their right mind would want to hold onto a 12-by-12 piece of fiberglass and get shot at. Who really thinks that offers any meaningful level of safety? As a company,” Jim explains, “we offer communities the physical means to protect themselves and their students. But there is no single product in the world that you buy and automatically gain security. Bullet resistant barriers—including our custom bullet-resistant barriers and reinforced vestibules—are just one component in a comprehensive, human-centered solution.”
Real Bulletproof Solutions for Schools
The rest of that comprehensive solution comes from the families, communities, schools, and law enforcement working together toward a common goal. In addition to working directly with schools to increase security, Jim and his staff have spoken with countless families over the last 14 years. Their updated School Safety Kit is geared toward concerned parents, teachers, and families and provides information on actions they can take to increase school safety right now.