This week, in news that is surely a sign of a healthy, functioning society: An elementary school in Alabama has deployed a combination whiteboard / mass shooting safe room / meeting room / sensory deprivation chamber for overwhelmed students. The device, which is essentially a retractable, bulletproof panic room, can be deployed single handedly by a child as young as four years old, according to marketing videos.
KT Security Solutions’ “Rapid-Deploy Safe Room System” is a “functional white board that can be customized to fit any classroom and expands into a fold-out room in under 10 seconds to serve as a protective shield, storm shelter, or additional meeting space inside the classroom,” according to an information sheet posted by WBRC News’s Gillian Brooks.
The device “provides ballistic shield for an entire classroom of students and staff” and can stop .308 caliber ammunition, the information sheet says.
In TV reports, the panic room being deployed is adorned with flowers and is labeled “creative corner.” The inside is decorated with drawings, games, and a little blue reclining chair.
“My kids love to free draw on this side,” a special education teacher told ABC 33/40 of the panic room’s whiteboard capabilities. “It’s been really good so far, the kids love it.” In a tweet, Brooks notes that teachers “said they keep them set up and students use them as sensory or hang out rooms.”
Kevin Thomas, the founder of KT Security Solutions and KT Outdoors, told Motherboard in a phone interview that creating the device was bleak, but that it made him feel like he was doing something to protect children.
"I'm with you 120 percent when you say that 'I cannot believe we even need this,'" he said.
"When we put these in, we weren't really sure how the kids would receive them, how the teachers would receive them, and we just knew that we had to give them an opportunity to go home [safely during an active shooting situation], right?," he said.
"The teachers said the kids actually call it the 'Calm Zone,' and they actually call it the 'Calm Cottage' now. She leaves hers deployed all the time and it is a reward system that she has put in her elementary class where, when the kids do good things, they get a good grade, they read all their stuff, they do all their homework, they get a little free time on Friday in the Calm Cottage," he said. "They can go in there and do free reading, play little table games and things like that. So it's actually had the exact opposite effect of what you and I would have thought before we had them implemented."
"That's been a blessing that I didn't see coming," he added.
Thomas said he was inspired to make the device after the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas: "My wife called me crying about this Uvalde situation and said, 'We have to do something to fix this and protect children when these things happen.'"
Last year, he went to the International Police Chiefs Conference in Dallas, where he showed off a small model of the device. On the outside of the device were photos of children killed in Uvalde. "Those parents said 'Do not let our children perish’ and nothing happened," Thomas said. "This is because they asked us to do this.
“Not directly,” he added, “but I saw them on the news."
Thomas, whose company "builds ballistic, rapid-deployment housing units for the military warfighter in our forward operating bases around the world," said that he partnered with Honeywell, Advanced American Technologies (which does material composites research), and a company called Cornerstone, which is one of the leading constructors of prisons, detention centers, and locking and security hardware used in prisons and jails in the United States.
"They literally make doors and locking mechanisms that we use in the U.S. embassy to protect our government officials at a very, very high level around the world," Thomas said. "All the [locking] mechanisms are hidden when the door is closed, so you can't access from the intruder side any of the hardware."
KT Outdoors also makes hunting blinds and modular housing units for use after natural disasters or as tiny homes to house people experiencing homelessness.
The Rapid-Deploy Safe Room System is the latest in uniquely American dystopian anti-school shooting tech, an emerging product category that includes bulletproof backpacks and desks, AI scanners designed to detect guns (but which are of dubious quality), ubiquitous surveillance, and architectural designs intended to discourage mass shootings.
There are currently two deployed and he hopes to grow the company quickly. "Our goal is to have a million classrooms in a year. That's what we want. There's three to five million classrooms around the United States."
Thomas would not say how much each Rapid-Deploy Safe Room System costs, but local media has reported they are $60,000 each. "We have pricing based on the two or three that we've built that are in schools now. That's not a scalable number … there's a number there that if you put it up there by itself it looks scary … but people need to understand that it starts in one place but it does nothing but goes down."
"Everyone [we're working with] says we're in 100 percent to drive costs down when we get the volumes to be able to do that," he added. He said that "we came up with this idea to lay the financial landscape out so that this is not a burden on the schools to the way it sounds off the street."
"I can tell you now, I have five children, and I have two grandchildren, you don't have enough money you could put in the Hudson Bay and fill it up that would make me trade that for one of them," he added. "So it's all about, well, what's your child worth? I know what mine's worth. What's your child worth? And if there's anybody that combats the fact that we're trying to save a life and send a child home while we fix the bigger issues bureaucratically, you're committing political suicide in my opinion, because this isn't about you. This is about those children, and if you make it about you, you need to just get away from my space."
In a marketing video titled “SCHOOL/COMMERCIAL BALLISTICS WALL PROTECTION SYSTEM,” KT Outdoors notes that catastrophic school shootings are far more common than catastrophic school fires, and yet, an “average cost per student for fire suppression system is $400-$670.”
The video opens with a rolling footage of American tragedies from the past 20 years, including Sandy Hook and Columbine. Over this footage it plays audio of speech Matthew McConaughey gave at the White House in the wake of the Uvalde shooting.
“This moment is different,” McConaughey said in the wake of a school shooting that claimed 22 lives. “We are in a window of opportunity right now that we have not been in before. A window where it seems like real change, real change can happen by making the loss of these lives matter.”
McConaughey was begging for new gun control laws. KT Outdoors plays his impassioned plea over footage of a test of its Ballistic Wall Protection Kit. The words “customized to fit into any classroom for optimal space functionality,” flash on the screen as the actor desperately begs America’s leadership to do something, anything, about the continual death of children in school.
The video then shows a test in which an AK-47 round is fired into the material used for the shield. An adult then deploys the shield in a matter of seconds. Immediately after, a child, “4 years old,” is shown deploying the system—the implication being that an elementary school student could deploy the panic room if they had to.
"The problem is bigger than [us], we're not politicians, we're not policy makers, we don't do those things," Thomas said. "Those are for other people. But what we can control, we want to try to control and we knew how to make ballistic panels and we knew how to do the mechanism and minimize the effect that it has inside the classroom on a daily basis."