POCOMOKE CITY, Md. — In direct response to the deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn., armor manufacturer Hardwire LLC has developed a handheld whiteboard for classrooms that can stop a bullet from a handgun fired at point-blank range.
"It's something I don't think any American can tolerate anymore, and we're in a position to do something about it," said George Tunis, CEO and chairman of Pocomoke City-based Hardwire. "I was like — all right, let's take everything we got, see what we can throw at this problem, figure out an innovative solution."
Sized at 18 by 20 inches and weighing 3.75 pounds, the whiteboards are meant to slip unobtrusively into the classroom as a teaching tool while being large enough to cover the head and torso. Each has three rubberized handles on the back, handy for a teacher to carry. In an unthinkable emergency, the user can slip their forearm inside the handles, and it becomes a shield.
Tunis called the whiteboards a last line of defense for teachers and students against attackers with handguns, one meant to buy them time — or to avert tragedy — before police arrive on the scene. Hardwire also offers a 10-by-13 inch ballistic clipboard with a whiteboard surface.
"As teachers are doing their daily lesson plans, it's in their hands. And if there's a crisis, it's in their hands," he said. "Teachers are not first responders, but sometimes they're thrust into that role."
The whiteboards are a derivative of Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle technology that Hardwire pioneered to protect military convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan. The armor is crafted from an ultra-strong, polyethelene-based textile called Dynema.
At Hardwire's 65,000-square-foot Pocomoke City manufacturing facility, two four-story machines nicknamed "Thor" and "Godzilla" use heat and millions of pounds of pressure to compress hundreds of layers of spun Dynema fabric. The result is a composite material that's eight times lighter than steel, twice as bullet-resistant as Kevlar and floats in water. Not only is it used as combat armor, but Hardwire has been contracted to blast-proof bridges in New York City and Maryland.
Tunis said he came up with the whiteboard idea when sitting at home with his kids, watching the news reports unfold about the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He thought: How can I use the same technology that neutralizes improvised explosive devices to keep kids safer in a school attack?
An early idea was creating a bulletproof backpack. But not only is the backpack market saturated, but the prospect of selling a backpack specifically created to stop handgun rounds made some parents squeamish.
"We saw concerned moms that said, putting the responsibility on my child to protect him or herself, it's too much. In fact, it may be upsetting to some families. We started to listen to that. And that's really what gave genesis to the whiteboard. Let's face it — it's really the adults that we need to equip," Tunis said.
They instead created a 16-ounce, quarter-inch thick universal backpack insert. It retails online for $99, Tunis said.
But Tunis wanted to get the whiteboard from the drawing board into the classroom. He gave 90 whiteboards to Worcester Preparatory School, the Berlin school where he sends his own children. The donation cost Hardwire $20,000 in product.
Headmaster Barry Tull said the school does have an emergency action plan now in place, but declined to say how the school's 525 kindergarten through 12th-grade students were trained to use their whiteboards in case of an attack.
"The products he has provided for us, I have been able to have us have widespread layered protection throughout all the buildings on our campus," Tull said. "I've had teachers say, every layer we add, it just makes people feel fundamentally a bit more secure."
Afterward, Tunis received several emails from grateful Worcester Preparatory students.
"The thought that someone can just walk into my classroom and take my life away is terrifying," wrote freshman Tori Barros. "Knowing that Hardwire is providing my classmates and I with the protection that someday may save our lives is a huge relief."
Tunis also pitched the whiteboards to Wicomico County public schools, where many elementary school students already work at their desks each day using a whiteboard, and hold them up high when responding to a teacher's question.
Wicomico County School Superindentent John Fredericksen said he likes the Hardwire whiteboards can be integrated seamlessly into the teaching environment without being disruptive.
"You still need to recognize — it's a school," he said. "Some people would say, you need to put an armed guard with a flak jacket and firearms and Tasers at the front door. I'm not sure it's going to do more to make us safe, but it's going to scare the daylights out of a bunch of kids."
Tunis said he'd like to see every teacher in America carry a Hardwire ballistic whiteboard in their classroom. That comes to about 7 million whiteboards, which he said his factory could produce in one year, if it ran 24 hours a day, at a cost of about $1 billion.
Information from: The Daily Times of Salisbury, Md., http://www.delmarvanow.com/