So far, the debates over safer colleges have chiefly been between the opponents and supporters of allowing teachers and administrators to arm themselves. A new product from Hardwire, LLC may change the tone of that debate. The company just closed a deal with University of Maryland Eastern Shore to provide its classrooms with bullet-proof whiteboards that can be used both for writing down information and as a personal shield.
Originally a maker of body armor, Hardwire came up with the idea for the whiteboard after last year’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. According to Hardwire’s CEO George Tunis, watching the aftermath turned his thoughts to how their products could have made it easier for teachers and school staff to get closer to the shooter and possibly neutralize him without getting shot themselves.
UMES is the first university to adopt Hardwire’s technology, though the company said it has sold its bulletproof whiteboards, which cost $299 apiece, to roughly 100 lower-grade schools in five states, including Maryland. It also makes bulletproof door shields, clipboards and inserts for children’s backpacks, all of which it sells online.
UMES President Juliette B. Bell said in a telephone interview that she decided to order 200 whiteboards for faculty using funds from the university’s foundation account so the school could be “proactive rather than reactive” in a violent situation.
According to Tricia Bishop of The Baltimore Sun, the deal with UMES – worth $600,000 – was announced at the Maryland Association of Counties this summer, where Hardwire representatives touted their wares, hoping for orders from other universities and school districts around the state. Their booth attracted attention from SEIU political director Mark McLaurin, who is the union’s rep for Montgomery County.
G. Dale Wesson, a UMES professor thought that the new boards would be a good alternative for schools that are hesitant to arm their staff.
Hardwire first hooked up with UMES in 2004, when a school foundation invested in the company with a $250,000 loan. Later, it granted Hardwire a $500,000 loan, both of which have since been paid back.
“We’re very happy to be on the front end of this,” Bell said. “We believe this is a technology that is going to be helpful in keeping our students and our facilities safe, and we actually applaud Hardwire for their entrepreneurial spirit.”
What makes the whiteboards so attractive is how simple they are to use. The material absorbs the bullet, thus eliminating harm from shrapnel, and is made from the same material used on clipboards carried by police officers.