Omer Barnes was stunned when he got the call from Adam Fried, the superintendent of his kids’ school, asking how he could best fortify the classroom doors. Fried told him the Harrington Park School District in New Jersey was interested in the doors as part of a growing effort to keep children safe in the event of a shooting.
Barnes’ company, Remo Security Doors had been making high-security metal doors for corporate and private customers. But it had never crossed his mind to make bullet-resistant doors for schools.
“These are military-grade products that weren’t designed to be installed in schools,” said Barnes. “They were meant for businesses and the government.”
During the call, Fried described the lockdown drills taking place in the school where Barnes’ 11-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son attend.
“In the 1950s and 60s, we had drills to prepare students and staff in the event of a nuclear incident,” said Fried, who oversees the kindergarten through middle school. “But now we have to protect them in the event of a shooting.”
During the drills, classroom doors are shut and locked. Window blinds are pulled down. Classroom lights are turned off. Inside, students and teachers huddle together for about 20 minutes.
“I couldn’t believe it. I said ‘my kids too?’ I was very upset that day,” recalled Barnes. “Can you imagine how terrifying and traumatic it must be for kids to sit there in silence?”
Barnes agreed to help and set about adapting his company’s doors for use in the school.
Making schools safer
This year alone, there have been at least 23 shootings at US schools in which someone was hurt or killed. In the last 10 years, there have been 180 school shootings, resulting in 356 victims — a huge jump from an estimated 19 school shootings between 1999 and 2009.
Currently, at least 43 states require schools to have a safety plan that outlines the roles for staff in case of an emergency, evacuation routes and collaboration with local emergency services.
“We’ve been through Columbine and all the school shootings after it. We know we have to improve school security,” said Fried. “The question was: How do we do it so our school doesn’t feel like a jail, with metal detectors? It’s not healthy for kids.”
The doors Barnes’ company created, he said, don’t seem to distract students or teachers. Remo’s doors look a lot like regular school doors. They come in multiple colors and finishes and they are quick to install.
But that doesn’t mean the doors aren’t tough.
Remo’s doors are made out of 18-gauge galvanized steel and bullet-resistant glass. The door weighs 150 pounds and offers a high level of ballistic protection.
“It will stop the first few bullets from penetrating all the way through. And the lock will jam if you shoot at it to try to open it,” he said. They are also fire-resistant for up to 90 minutes, he added.
Knowing that most public schools operate on tight budgets, Barnes is also trying to make his doors more affordable. For a typical corporate or private client, a Remo door costs about $3,900. But he’s been able to get the cost for schools down to about $2,500 as orders have picked up.
Barnes hopes to reduce that price even further so more schools can afford them. His company also offers financing options and helps schools obtain grants and assists in fundraising efforts.
R2P Innovations in Charleston, South Carolina started selling its bullet-resistant classroom doors in late 2018.
“After Sandy Hook, our engineering team decided to challenge themselves to find a way in which we could help defend school children, teachers and administrators in the event of another active shooter situation,” said Tony Deering, the company’s founder and CEO.
“It’s an unfortunate reality that school shootings are so prevalent in America. So it’s crucial to be able to buy that critical 10 minutes of safety before law enforcement arrives in such a situation,” he said.
R2P Innovation’s door weighs 260 pounds and can absorb 100 rounds from any assault weapon, Deering said. The company’s doors cost an average of $4,000 each.
But like Barnes, Deering said he recognizes how challenging it is for public schools to find the funding to pay for the doors. “We’ve had a lot of success with private schools, where the money isn’t the issue,” he said. “In Charleston, I’ve gotten calls from public school parents willing to buy them for the school but it won’t be allowed.”
‘I knew the importance of creating a safe zone’
The Harrington Park School piloted the first door from Remo last summer. It has installed more than 50 since, said Fried.
Since introducing the door, Remo has installed hundreds of doors in more than 70 schools across the country, Barnes said.
Growing up In Israel, Barnes understood the need to feel secure.
“After the 1990s Gulf War, a law was passed mandating every building in Israel have a safe room,” said Barnes, who also served in the Israeli military. “So I knew the importance of creating a safe zone. It makes someone on the inside feel safer and less anxious.”
He arrived in the United States 15 years ago and launched Remo Enterprises in 2008, a diverse investment and management firm dealing in construction, real estate and other ventures. In 2017, he launched the subsidiary business unit Remo Security Doors, which makes the door.
“When I came to America I wasn’t aware of the problem of school shootings,” he said.
“Children should not be in school under a black cloud of fear.”
But not everyone reacts positively to seeing bullet-resistant doors in schools. “One teacher who saw the door in her school honestly was upset,” recalled Barnes. “She said to me, ‘So this is what America is about now? Bullet-resistant doors in classrooms?”
The comment took him by surprise.
“I said, ‘Yes. But I do believe schools will be safe again and these shootings will be a thing of the past because schools are taking action to become a lot safer.'”