Entrepreneurs Can Help Solve the School Protection Problem

December 16, 2012
Classroom layout

Classroom layout (Photo credit: Penny Coutas)

This has been the season of Sandy sadness.  First a hurricane levels the Jersey Shore and devastates surrounding areas, and now the tragedy that occurred in Sandy Hook, CT devastates us all.

This is a sensitive time that brings up a number of sensitive issues including mental illness, the desensitization of youth through ever more realistic violent films and digital games that reward the player for more violence, our mainstream news practices, the propensity for copycat criminals, the right to free expression and of course the right to bear arms and how the arming of America has led to so many more gun injuries and killings in the US versus other advanced nations. If I stated a position and an opinion on any of the above, they would be largely uninformed.  However, I’ll weigh in with a possible solution.

We all know it will take months and years to take a step back to analyze root causes and recommend productive action and pass new legislation.  In the meantime, with so many millions of firearms in circulation, the notion that your children are safe in schools is a fallacy. All of this adds up to an impossible situation, where we can sadly expect to see more incidents while the powers that be work through all of these and more issues.  One thing that should be extremely clear to a lot of us is that we cannot wait to better protect kids in school and provide them with new ways to evacuate what can unexpectedly turn a great learning environment into a war zone nightmare.  Recall what happened when IED’s were rampantly wounding our soldiers.  Soldiers took it upon themselves to begin welding donated armor to the bottom of vehicles deployed in the Middle East. They did not wait for congressional approvals and new budgets to catch up because lives were at risk. In my opinion, the entrepreneurial ecosystem can do this as well and help define and solve the school safety problem.

The U.S. is a country of entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are uniquely qualified to solve problems quickly. They turn negatives into positives and see opportunity where others see problems. Entrepreneurs are action-oriented doers. While all of these issues are being discussed in Washington, I’d like to call on any entrepreneurs that read this to tweet or re-post an entrepreneur challenge to protect kids in our schools. We have the power of crowdsourcing, the power of networks and fully vested interests in coming up with ideas to protect kids in schools.  We have experience creating business models, getting them funded and implemented. There’s nothing wrong if someone makes a business out of this, as profit-generating efforts are self-sustaining.  The startup ecosystem can drive change, and here are some ideas to get started.

  • Crowdsource solutions
    • It would be great to have a web developer create a “Grand Central Station” for ideas from diverse experts, for donor commitments, state by state feedback, and progress updates to channel the solutions.
  • Commit capital
    • It would be great to see the capital folks, angels, venture capital and private equity, offer no strings grants to start companies throughout the states that focus on this problem.
  • Involve industry
    • It would be great for some security manufacturers and consultants to donate time and materials to solving the problem.
  • Think locally
    •  It would be great if local tradespeople who donated their weekend work installing systems could later write off the donated time on their taxes.
  • Consult Security Experts
    • There must be thousands of veterans throughout the US who can add value to the security problem after creating green zones and operating in dangerous environments
  • Consult Psychiatric Experts
    • There must be hundreds of psychologists that can add value as to how solutions can be implemented in a way that is interpreted as a positive by schoolchildren and teachers
  • Involve Teachers
    • Self-explanatory

In the end, all that matters is that the problem of kids’ safety in schools is solved rapidly, and without having to wait for all sides to debate and negotiate the issues.  The goal might be to arrive at a handful of standard solutions that can be authorized and implemented locally.

Let’s get the brainstorm going. It seems to me the immediate problem is protecting a classroom of kids, or evacuating them rapidly without having to walk through hallways.  There appear to be some similarities to the airplane problem (confined area, few key leaders, unexpected attacks, lag time for law enforcement to respond). The first rule of brainstorming is to not limit yourself using pre-defined constraints.  Here are some ideas of my own to start:

  • Kevlar cubby’s – reinforce classroom cubbys, and line classroom cubbyholes with Kevlar, install small airplane cockpit quality doors that lock from the inside and can only be opened by officials; train kids and teachers
  • Repurpose armor and materials from the drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan to create safe rooms in the walls between every two classrooms, train kids and teachers, have local tradesmen donate the install
  • Equip classrooms with airplane quality slides that are used to evacuate kids from classrooms quickly to the outside through windows and without having to pass through hallways, train kids and teachers
  • Employ some form of mace-like substance or tear gas in canisters above classroom entryways that is survivable by kids, train kids and teachers (I know this sounds out there, but this is a brainstorm)
  • Create an internal protective force by hiring veterans, retired police or launch campaigns for volunteer reserves that are armed and scheduled to protect schools
  • Employ shot spotter technology in schools to alert police the moment a first shot is fired
  • Begin to sell civilian weapons with a tamper-proof intelligent shutoff device that will not work in schools, make it volunteer basis to start, and later legislation might require all registered gun owners to retrofit their weapons so that officials can shut-off the weapon. This would have prevented the Sandy Hook instance, where the mother’s weapons were taken.
  • OTHER!  Crowdsource solutions, brainstorm, form a challenge, offer rewards!

This effort cries out for a central group of coordinators who can channel and publicize efforts.  There are some well-known entrepreneurs and investors who could take up that mantle. Can you add your ideas and expertise to this list?  Do you have specific knowledge about new life protecting materials or alarm and surveillance systems? Do you know someone in the Armed Forces that could provide an informed opinion on how to access armoring materials like Kevlar that are being retired?  Do you know folks who build airplane cockpit doors?  Are you a tradesperson who would donate your time installing systems in your local school? Are you a local official who can add their opinions on what is doable in a particular state? Do you have knowledge of portable storage containers that can be retrofitted to serve as temporary saferooms? Are you a school counselor or psychologist who sees this as worthwhile?  Like they say, it takes a village.

Other things that appear clear, to help begin to bound the problem are:

  • The growing incidence of mass shootings is now becoming a trend and not a coincidence
  • The killing of children in school, and those who we entrust with their care, is an especially egregious tragedy that is felt across the world and should not be ignored
  • There is a critical lag time problem between the time law enforcement are made aware of a problem, and the time they arrive on the scene. Kids need to be kept safe during that lag time, and the lag time must be diminished.
  • There are loopholes and differing state rules for obtaining firearms and ammunition that make it relatively easy to access them
  • Reportedly, there are already 300 million carbine weapons (guns, rifles, etc) in circulation in the US
  • The NRA is a well-financed, powerful lobby that influences congress and will at the least slow any potential modification of gun laws
  • Americans will not give up their weapons overnight, and so the problem will not go away any time soon
  • Even if a lot of them did, the chances are criminals will not and they would be emboldened
  • There will be different levels of government involved in ok’ing any local solutions – this has to be streamlined
  • The news cannot be covered accurately without giving attention to those who commit the most outrageous crimes
  • Computer war games are protected by the right to expression, and they just will keep getting more realistic and more engaging
  • Young people will always be susceptible to influence and emotional acts
  • People will always tend to downplay or hide mental health issues
  • The regulatory negotiations surrounding automatic versus semi-automatic weapons, kits that modify weapons, large versus small magazines, availability of ammunition, etc., will be a lengthy one. We can’t wait.

In a perfect world, a number of folks from these different walks of life would get together to create classroom protection solutions.  If it can be done on an airplane, and it was done relatively quickly, it can be done in a classroom.  Will you get involved?


Three months later, AllThingsD reported on March 14th that “Ron Conway, a financier known for his early investments in technology companies such as Google Inc., is leading a Silicon Valley effort to curb gun violence by investing in technologies such as firearm locks and better school security.
Mr. Conway said he and other executives expect to unveil the initiative Thursday, alongside some parents of victims of December’s elementary-school shooting in Newtown, Conn., who are backing the effort.”

Given that the changes to gun regulations have been deemed by Congress to be going nowhere, as predicted in this and my follow up post to this one, it is good to see some real progress being initiated by folks who know how to get things done.  I hope that a qualified Champion to this initiative emerges, like a Ron Conway, to ensure its long-term success.