EXETER — Simple things like trimming shrubs or tinting classroom windows so people don’t see in can buy valuable time that saves lives when someone targets a school for a deadly attack, Mason Wooldridge said as he walked the perimeter of Wyoming Area High School.
“We do a life threat assessment,” he explained. “We look for where you are vulnerable based on past events.”
And he’s been doing them in area districts at a cost of $500 a school. That’s a steal, he insisted, when compared to full blown threat assessments usually based on guidelines from the federal Department of Homeland Security. Those reviews can cost $10,000 or more, he said.
His reviews include a cost estimate for quick, cheap fixes as well as longer-term projects. Trimming or removing shrubs outside windows eliminates a place to hide a bomb, for example. Tinting classroom glass to block people from seeing in can make an active shooter less likely to open fire from outside because “they can’t guarantee a body count.”
In many cases, the way to save lives is simply “to buy minutes,” he explained, noting the typical time it takes from calling 911 to arrival of law enforcement is about 10 minutes, while most active shooter events have lasted only about six and a half.
So replacing door glass with laminated safety glass can mean the difference between life and death without the steep cost of bullet-proof glass. Safety glass may let a bullet pass through, but it won’t shatter and allow the shooter to simply walk in.
Wooldridge is co-founder and CEO of nonprofit Our Kids Deserve It. A former teacher who went to work for a tech company that helped design a school in Indiana considered among the safest in the nation, Wooldridge said forming the nonprofit became “my calling” after he realized how little official guidance there is on making a school safe. He devised the assessment system he is using, sold his house and set up shop in a donated recreational vehicle. “That RV is my home,” he said with a smile.
It’s also the nonprofit’s office for now. He said he and his partner hope to “visit 13 states in 13 months” to do assessments and make recommendations to schools. They also want to push states to adopt school construction standards that include safety features.
“We make suggestions in three levels,” he said. The first are cheap and easy with the biggest impact for the dollar, like the shrubbery. The second recommendations focus on helping responding law enforcement, which can be as simple as making sure teachers can directly contact the school office or police to say exactly what’s going on near them, or to install relatively inexpensive “shock detectors” that send a signal when a gun is fired.
The third tier are things that may be done over several years: installing metal doors, placing barricades between a road and a door, setting up a system to detect when doors are open and for how long.
A key goal of his assessments is to put a price tag on everything, Wooldridge said, which gives school districts a specific list to show the state when school safety grants are on the table.
Wooldridge initially came to the area for a workshop with the county-wide School Safety Committee, an inter-district organization set up through the Luzerne Intermediate Unit. He said after his presentation, several districts asked him to return to do assessments at their schools.
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish