Sandy Hook 10 years later: A look at how school security has evolved since

 

WORCESTER COUNTY, Md. – Wednesday marks ten years since a gunman killed 20 children and six adults inside Sandy Hook Elementary School. It’s a tragedy that largely opened up the eyes of the nation to gun violence. The catastrophe also opened up a conversation about how to best protect children and school staff from mass shootings.

In the ten years since, local school security has started to look a lot different; whether it’s putting bulletproof shields in every school, or having a school resource deputy (SRD) on hand in the case of a mass casualty incident.

A Change in Mission

Hardwire LLC in Pocomoke City, Md. manufactures body and vehicle armor, as well as shields and backpack inserts that can be used in the event of a school shooting. However, that was not always their mission. When the company started, CEO George Tunis says they were in the business of reinforcing wind turbine blades.

“Then 9/11 happened, and we got immediately involved in the war effort. In doing, so we’re protecting soldiers, marines, airmen,” said Tunis. “Next thing we know, Sandy Hook happened. That’s when we got involved in the schools, supplying some of that technology.”

Tunis says once he and his company realized they could save lives with their products, it was full steam ahead.

“That wound never goes away. Having my own children, it’s unimaginable,” said Tunis. “Sandy Hook was like this radical departure, where it was done and over in three minutes. It happened so fast, so violently. And, it happened to the most innocent of innocents.”

Switching To Shields

The team at Hardwire LLC started mentally putting themselves in the shoes of teachers in an active shooter situation, says Tunis.

“They will stand there open, protecting their kids without a single tool. That’s when the lightbulb went off for us,” said Tunis. “Active shooters are looking – they’re hunting – for people. When it came down to fighting, nobody had a tool.”

Hardwire LLC looked to fire code as an example; Tunis says a product that almost anyone can use, with instructions written on it, can mean the difference between life and death. He recommends that schools have as many shields as they have fire extinguishers. Tunis says the average school could do that to the tune of about $9,000.

“The best defense is having shields inside the building for the people that are already there, or for law-enforcement that is arriving,” said Tunis. “The genie is so far out of the bottle. Someday, I think we can reign that in. But, in the meantime, we have to deal with the current problem.”

Supplying School Districts

Hardwire LLC started out by supplying 3A protection level pilot shields at his own child’s school.

Today, 1,652 Hardwire LLC shields can be found in 58 schools across Somerset, Wicomico, and Worcester Counties. Beyond that, Tunis says the company has worked with schools, prisons, office buildings, and hospitals in all 50 states.

“You can’t plan for an emergency during an emergency. It’s too late. So, getting ahead of it is critically important, and getting ahead of it locally is a great place to start,” said Tunis. “Not in our backyard. That was so horrific for me personally, and for our staff. We were like let’s go ahead and make a half-million dollar donation. Let’s put a stake in the ground, and say ‘Not in my house.'”

How the Shields Work

Hardwire LLC’s shields weigh in at about 24 pounds, and are made of the same metal that coats armored vehicles.

“You could overpower someone with a gun easily with this. You cannot hold a gun against this, whether it’s a handgun or an assault rifle. You literally turn into a human bulldozer,” said Tunis.

The idea is that individuals facing a gunman will hold the shield in front of their face and upper torso, while running directly at the shooter. Tunis says Hardwire LLC frequently gets one major question about the seemingly daunting task: can everybody truly do it?

Tunis explains the physics of the shield make that possible. For example, he says if the shooter is firing with a six-pound firearm, the 24-pound shield would absorb the force of the bullets. He says it would feel much like the recoil from shooting a pistol.

“We’re teaching teachers, ‘Yes, you can do this.’ Those tools in their hands can become showstoppers for the bad guys,” said Tunis. “The bullets literally do just bounce off of the steel. They get shattered. You would feel a knock. But, the bigger thing you’re going to feel is actually running into the gun itself.”

SRDs on Hand

Also found inside Worcester County schools, are school resource deputies. Worcester County Sheriff Matt Crisafulli says SRDs often form impactful, lasting relationships with students. However, they are also the ones who schools might rely on first if a shooting were to happen.

Ten years ago when Sandy Hook happened, former Worcester County Sheriff Reggie Mason got together with County Commissioners to prepare for any violence in their backyard. They decided to put an SRD in every Worcester County school.

“Prior to that, traditionally it was only really middle school and high school level,” said Sheriff Crisafulli. “That really changed the training standards. After that, when you hear gunfire in a school, you charge to the threat.”

As the years went by, more school shootings happened, and Sheriff Crisafulli and his department watched other law enforcement agencies deal with tragedy.

“It’s very hard, because as a parent and having worked in our schools for years, we look at our community like these are our children,” said Sheriff Crisafulli. “As time has evolved, and we’re seeing these mass tragedies, it’s very dangerous for people to get in the mindset of that couldn’t have been here.”

Sheriff Crisafulli says SRDs undergo intensive training on how to respond to an active assailant. And once they’re the job, Sheriff Crisafulli says that training is continually reviewed and refreshed.

“I always wake up and pray that today is not the day. But, God forbid that we encounter something like that, we are trained and we can eliminate any casualties by having that deputy there on the school campus,” said Sheriff Crisafulli.

Working Together

Sheriff Crisafulli says working with companies like Hardwire LLC to outfit schools and deputies with the necessary tools is crucial.

“With the teachers and staff being trained on the use of the shield, that shield not only can protect them from the ballistics, but it can also be used in defense,” said Sheriff Crisafulli. “It’s an extra component in our toolbox. I like to call it hardening the target; having law enforcement there on the campus, having an additional resource with Hardwire to help us.”

Continuing to collaborate is a responsibility that Sheriff Crisfaulli takes personally. He vows to continue working with Hardwire LLC to get more shields on hand, and find other protection solutions.

“It’s my responsibility as the sheriff of this county to make sure that we are partnering with local businesses and with local organizations, because we are all a component of keeping our children safe,” said Sheriff Crisafulli.

Categories: Local News, Maryland