The United States kicked off 2014 with two school shootings in January. Should city schools implement high tech to help prevent these tragedies?
On January 14, an 11-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl were shot by a 12-year-old boy in Roswell, N.M. Three days later in Philadelphia, Pa., a 7-year-old boy shot an 18-year-old girl and the bullet passed through her arm, striking a 17-year-old boy.
The Philadelphia school had metal detectors, but the shooter was able to avoid them. The Roswell school didn't have any, and some parents are asking the school to install them. Would metal detectors have prevented the shootings? Perhaps, if the student went through the detector, and it beeped, and a security guard had been able to get the gun before the shooting began. But they don't do any good when students avoid them.
That's one of the problems with all technology solutions: They shouldn't be able to be bypassed. Another hiccup with school metal detectors is that, by their very definition, they detect metal. After all, it's possible to buy plastic guns, and even to create them with a 3D printer. Such a weapon wouldn't be flagged by a metal detector.
However, while possible, this is esoteric manufacturing and the chances are pretty much zero that a student would be able to afford, let alone make, a plastic gun. In addition, in December, Congress reauthorized for another 10 years the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 which bans manufacturing, selling, and possessing weapons that can't be discovered by metal detectors or X-ray machines.
As a result, plastic guns aren't a real threat for schools, at least for the foreseeable future. Metal guns create enough problems, and they are readily available. So metal detectors can be effective in finding guns, knives, and other potential weapons. But there's other tech available to schools as well.
For example, International Armoring Corp. in Centerville, Utah, has developed a product called Safeboard. These look like whiteboards, but they are bulletproof panels for schools. The company says bullets from just about any firearm can't penetrate the panels.
There are two primary ways to use the product: One way is to attach a single panel to a wall and slide it across a classroom's door when a shooter enters the school; and the second is to attach two panels to a corner wall so they can be configured to create a V-shaped enclosure in the classroom. The walls are designed to provide protection for students and teachers from weapons until help arrives.
Each panel costs $1,850, and the two-part enclosure costs $5,800. That's not cheap, and it raises a difficult question for school administrators. If a school can't afford Safeboard for every classroom and office, which areas receive the protection? As Mark Burton, the company's CEO told Bloomberg Businessweek, it can be a "touchy subject."
So a problem for schools is not just whether they can afford Safeboard, but also whether some areas -- and people -- are more important than others to protect. Schools won't describe it in those terms, of course, but many parents and students will think of it that way.
One possible, less expensive way to provide protection is with a smartphone app. Yes, there's an app for that. DefenCall offers several self-help apps for different groups, including Campus StaySafe for colleges and K-12 StaySafe for lower grades.
The apps are customized for every school, and have a big red "Panic" button. When it's pressed, a voice call is initiated to E-911 or a local police station. At the same time, the phone transmits an SMS or email to a web browser which begins flashing in, for example, the school's security office. The software is for teachers and administrators in the K-12 app, and also for students in the Campus app.
The Campus app allows students to transmit a pre-programmed group SMS to receive help from other students, assuming that won't put those students in danger. The apps also include recommendations for remaining safe during a shooting, based on school emergency procedures, and other security information. The individual apps cost schools about $5 per student per year.
With technological help available, one question for cities is how much school budgets should allocate for personnel and student protection. Metal detectors are "old school" (pun intended) and their value has been documented. But International Armoring's bulletproof panels for schools and DefenCall's apps are new. Schools will have to consider whether there's sufficient evidence to implement those solutions or other high tech options.
— Alan Reiter, President, Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing