With children across the country back in school, their safety is a top priority.
The May 24 shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman walked inside an elementary school, killing 19 students and two teachers, has administrators across the nation looking at school safety — including northeast Florida’s largest school district: Duval County Public Schools.
School leaders in Jacksonville announced they’ve hired a private company to do a security audit and training.
“We take every student who comes through those doors, and our job is to ensure when they’re inside of our domain, that they are safe,” DCPS Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene said at a June 1 news conference with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Duval County School Police Department Chief Greg Burton to announce the deal with the private security company named Armoured One.
With 130,000 students in 196 schools, that’s no easy effort.
“But I think that we are on firm ground with our protocols that we have in place,” Duval County School Police Department Chief Greg Burton said.
Armoured One, based in New York, builds special glass to slow down an attacker and provide more time for students and teachers to get to safety. The company is currently working with Uvalde schools to provide free training and assessments to staff members.
The Solutionaries team visited the company’s headquarters in Syracuse, and at its warehouse, got a firsthand look at the technology and tactics the company hopes to provide in schools.
Examining the problems
At Armoured One’s warehouse, the company trains, tests and transforms to make schools safer. There, we asked Armoured One co-founder and CEO Tom Czyz why he started the company.
“It was the night of the Sandy Hook attack — Dec. 14, 2012. That’s how we got our start. My wife was a city schoolteacher here in Syracuse, and between the two of us, we had six children,” said Czyz. “And I realized on that day, even as a SWAT operator. as a homicide detective, that I couldn’t get to my kids quick enough.”
A veteran police officer, Czyz knew he could do better, and teamed up with friend Tino Amodei.
“We know it’s not just one solution, right? One solution isn’t going to make a difference. It’s putting many different puzzle pieces together,” said Amodei, co-founder and chief technology officer of Armoured One.
The team studies mass shootings, visiting the scenes and putting together reports.
The team has found common themes:
- The shooters showed warning signs before the attacks.
- They’ve scoped out the campus before.
- They attack during school hours.
- They want an easy entrance, coming in through an open door or shooting through the glass.
- They also want to see their victims, so they shoot at close range.
- They’re met with little resistance and have several minutes — if not longer — inside the school before they’re killed or captured.
The goal is to deter a shooter from entering at all. But if they try, it’s to slow them down, and keep them out of crowded areas, as police respond.
Armoured One preaches a three-prong approach:
- Threat assessment.
- Teacher and staff training.
- Technology to fortify a campus.
Duval County’s contract, which the city says is less than $100,000, is confidential for security reasons. It is known, however, that it includes assessments of campus to look for vulnerabilities.
“I’m boots on the ground,” Armoured One assessor Steve Zaferakis said. “This is where we want to protect all the glass. This is where we want to make sure the outer door is locked to keep that initial person on the outside.”
It also includes online training for every employee.
There’s no word yet on if, in the future, school leaders will opt for a third part: technology.
Solutionaries team tests attack-resistant film, glass
Armoured One manufactures attack-resistant film and glass, which go on windows and doors.
The company will point out it’s not bulletproof, but it can still make a big difference. The Solutionaries team went to the range to test it out.
The company even tests its products in attack-resistant doors, using a battering ram with 250 pounds of pressure.
Czyz, one of the Armoured One founders, showed what it’s like to shoot traditional tempered glass. One pistol shot and one punch, and a shooter is in.
“The shooter needs to reach in and unlock a door,” Czyz said. “That’s all they’re looking for.”
The film that the company makes goes on after a window’s in place. It takes a few bullets, and cuts down on the shooter’s visibility, but it still doesn’t take long to breach the door.
Finally, Czyz demonstrated the use an AR-15 — the weapon of choice for active school shooters — on the company’s safety glass, which has an outer later of film and a thicker layer in between two panes.
He let us put it to the test. It took several minutes to break through the glass with a baseball bat after it already had 70 rounds in it from an AR-15 and then a 9-millimeter. Those extra minutes it took to use the bat would have given students and staff the time to run and hide and law enforcement officers to rush in.
While Armoured One can’t measure what it might have deterred, the I-TEAM was told that a few years ago in New York, a former student tried to get on a school campus with a machete after posting he was going to kill students. Staff was well-trained, and they wouldn’t let him in at the entrance. He reportedly tried to smash through the window and door — but couldn’t — and was arrested. He was the only one who got hurt.
Armoured One glass is about 15% to 20% more expensive than a typical windowpane — it’s a price the company says is well worth it.
All of this costs money, though, and it’s a big chunk in an already strained budget for many school districts.
“It’s true. I mean, you got limited budgets, you got, you know, inflation happening, you got legislation making changes, you know, taking things away from our schools, making it more difficult, but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s a problem in our society,” said Amodei, the other Armoured One founder. “And that we can’t — just because we can’t afford — it doesn’t mean we can’t ignore it, too, at the same time.”
The windows and doors are not part of Duval County’s current package, but school districts across the United States are installing them, with a New York district recently including it in a $12 million project.
Couple this with an on-campus alert system, and top-notch training, and Armoured One claims schools will be significantly safer, and if one life can be saved, it’s money well spent.
A look at Duval County
We asked Czyz, the Armoured One CEO if he had noticed any weak points in Duval County, which has older school buildings.
“There’s weak points, you know, throughout buildings around Duval County. But that’s everywhere in the United States. I would say 80% of our buildings are not built for true security to protect,” Czyz said. “And I’m not talking we don’t want your place to look like a prison. We actually want the most gorgeous-looking, relaxed atmosphere for these kids. But it’s got to be done right.”
The Armoured One team said Duval County’s leaders are in this for the right reasons and that they’re being proactive. The team also said Florida may be the best state in the country for making our schools safer, opening the Office of Safe Schools and dedicating state funds for improving safety and security on campus. The company is working with a number of districts across the state, but can’t say which ones, because many details are confidential.
Czyz said the methods have already worked, citing an example at an upstate New York school.
A teen attacker high on drugs came back to the school that expelled him with a weapon dead set on taking lives, Czyz said. The protocols that were in place blocked him and he couldn’t get through the single entry door. Instead, he was stuck in the airlock. School staff and students knew what to do and hid as the threat continued.
“They were able to get out of hallways, get into safe rooms to get people out of the building that needed to be out of the building,” Czyz said. “And were able to hold him at bay up near the front entry for about eight minutes before police arrest him at gunpoint. And it’s hard to say how many he could have killed or injured that day.”
He believes many lives were saved.