Bulletproof Safe Rooms in DoD Schools: Lawmakers Look to New Tactics to Protect Kids

Fort Buchanan conducts an active shooter exercise
Fort Buchanan conducts an active shooter exercise at a high school, Aug. 30, 2022. (U.S. Army photo by Rosie Irizarry)

A bipartisan pair of lawmakers wants to install bulletproof safe rooms in the schools that serve military children, amid historically high rates of school shootings.

An amendment filed for the House's version of the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, would create a five-year pilot program in which armored rooms and hallway systems would be installed in 10 Department of Defense Education Activity schools within the continental United States.

"As schools across the country continue to update and expand school hardening resources, it is vital that our service members' children who attend school on-base have access to the same resources to keep them safe in the event of an emergency," Rep. Dave Joyce, R-Ohio, the amendment's sponsor, said in a statement to Military.com. "If this amendment is included in the final package, it will serve to protect our children, support our service members and keep Americans safe."

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The amendment is co-sponsored by Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H.

More than 1,400 amendments have been filed ahead of next week's House floor debate on the NDAA, and typically just a fraction of proposed amendments receive votes, though House Republican leadership earlier this year promised a more open amendment process than previous years. The House Rules Committee is expected to decide at the beginning of next week which amendments will get votes.

Joyce and Kuster's proposal appears similar to a pilot program launched at an Alabama elementary school that made headlines earlier this year. The "Rapid-Deploy Safe Room System" from KT Security Solutions is essentially a pop-up panic room with ballistic protection that can also double as a white board, storm shelter or extra meeting space, according to local news reports and marketing materials.

Calls to harden schools have grown in recent years as shootings have spiked and Congress has failed to agree on any significant gun control. After last year's shooting in Uvalde, Texas, killed 19 children and two teachers, Republican lawmakers proposed everything from hiring veterans for school security to limiting the number of doors in schools.

It is unclear whether safe rooms like the ones installed in Alabama, which reportedly cost more than $50,000 each, have ever successfully been used in an emergency, or whether adding them would reduce gun casualties at schools.

So far this year, there have been 23 school shootings that have resulted in injury or death, according to a tracker maintained by news outlet Education Week. The 2020-2021 school year saw 93 school shootings with casualties, the most since data collection began, the U.S. Department of Education said last year.

While none has been reported at DoDEA schools, active-shooter drills and emergency preparedness plans for active-shooter incidents have become a facet on DoDEA campuses just like in civilian schools.

Some research has indicated that such drills contribute to increased anxiety and depression among students, teachers and parents.

Under the proposal offered by Joyce and Kuster, the Pentagon would have to report back to Congress on any psychological effects having the safe rooms took on the school population "to determine if such effects are positive, neutral or negative," according to the text of the amendment. The assessment would be based on feedback from teachers, administrators, school psychologists, students and parents.

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at rebecca.kheel@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

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