When children head back to school in August, their safety is 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,” said Duval County School Police Department Chief Greg Burton.
With such an important issue, the News4JAX I-TEAM wanted to see what the company is all about. 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 I-TEAM recently flew to the company’s headquarters in Syracuse, and at its warehouse, got a firsthand look at the safety technology and tactics being used.
Examining the problems
At Armoured One’s headquarters, the company trains, tests and transforms to make schools safer. There, the I-TEAM 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 school teacher 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 homicide detective and SWAT operator, 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 law enforcement officers 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,” explained Armoured One assessor Steve Zaferakis. “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.”
Duval County’s contract 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.
I-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 I-TEAM went to the range to test it out.
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 could get 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 the I-TEAM 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 officers to rush in.
The company even tests its products in attack-resistant doors, using a battering ram with 250 pounds of pressure.
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 it, 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
The I-TEAM 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 says that Duval County’s leaders are in this for the right reasons and that they’re being proactive. The team also says 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.