I saw a story in The Washington Post where a man named Kevin Thomas started making pop-up safe rooms for schools – kind of like the panic rooms that became a status symbol in the late last millennium, denoting that the owner had or was something or someone so valuable that they were always under threat of robbery or worse.
It is inarguable that our children (and their teachers, let’s not forget, and aides, and caretakers, and all) are supremely valuable. It is also, unfortunately, inarguable that we find them living, moving, and having their being under the threat of gun violence. Firearms have infamously become the leading cause of death for children and teenagers in America, even as security measures have multiplied along with the guns and the deaths, the injuries and the assaults on the body and soul of families across the country.
The individual who has designed the Rapid Access Safe Room System, who also manufactures easy-up hunting blinds as well as emergency housing shelters, knows that new fortresses are not a solution. Thomas told The Washington Post, “This is a way to buy time until we as a community and a country figure out the bigger, deeper-rooted problems. I hope this thing has to go out of business because we fixed it.”
Yet here it is, launched with legislators and the national press at hand, announcing its ease of use and added peace of mind at $50-60,000 each for a classroom-sized shelter. Although a fraction of the economic activity surrounding the guns themselves, initiatives and products to “harden” schools are a growing business, with spending on security systems for schools already exceeding $3 billion. There is certainly money to be made in marketing security solutions to a safety problem we refuse to address at its roots: roots in rage, violence, even despair, and ease of access to the firepower to turn them into carnage.
After a quick tally of the number of classrooms in any given school, let alone school district, it is easy, if cynical, to wonder whom these panic rooms will protect; whether they will remain within reach only of districts that can afford to accommodate their fear, rather than stuffing it down with their cheap morning coffee and hoping that it stays buried.
“I don’t control things at the lawmaking and legislative levels,” Thomas is quoted as saying in The Washington Post story. “So I was like, ‘Well, what can I do?’ Yet he did meet with lawmakers and community leaders to move the panic room pilot project into schools.
“We can’t depend on the government,” the inventor of the shelters told The Washington Post.
On the other hand, he told AL.com that, “We want to get this implemented legislatively. Ultimately, the goal is to have these be just like fire suppression systems.” That is, encoded into our national life, just as gun violence is becoming engraved upon our daily awareness.
I admit, I am aggrieved that we are in a place where these panic rooms seem like a decent idea, or at least a good story, for those who can afford them, and those who can afford to maintain them, and those who can afford to make space for them, in their classrooms, in their minds, in the pits of their stomachs.
I think that Thomas’ question, “Well, what can I do?” is the right one.
And I think that with a little ingenuity, a little legislative leverage, a lot less profit, and a more prophetic vision, we can do better than to spread panic rooms among our children’s schools.