Army Vet Builds Steel Vault to Protect Children at School

Shaking hands over a deal

J.C. Brown held up a young child's gray T-shirt marked with three bullet holes to the chest.

He then pointed to a fold-out, steel-frame enclosure lined with ballistic panels capable of withstanding blasts from a 12-gauge shotgun or AR-15 rifle.

"Would you rather have this protection, or this?" said Brown, a U.S. Army veteran and owner of dozens of U.S. patents on security devices. "If you truly want to save your own child's life, that's the way you have to look at it."

The Campobello resident has designed and engineered a vault intended for schools to keep children safe inside their classrooms in the event of active shooters or natural disasters like tornados.

He and a team of developers, under the moniker Big 6, LLP, say they would like to see their Vault for Active Shooter and Tornado, or VAST6, inside classrooms across the U.S. within the next several years. They spent the past year and a half coming up with the idea and functionality of the vault, which sits upright 24 inches tall and folds out to 60 inches deep or whatever depth needed to hold one classroom of students and teachers.

Several prototypes have been constructed and after some tweaking while a patent is pending, the team will begin actively presenting the vault to school systems.

According to studies by the FBI, there were 110 active shooter incidents in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010. About 29 percent of those events were in schools or institutions of higher education.

Twenty first-grade students and six school staff members were killed in a mass shooting inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. inDecember 2012. Such incidents have spurred national discussions on ways to bolster school security.

"We're trying to be as proactive as we can and come up with something like this that will keep people safe," Brown said of their vault.

From the onset of an emergency, the vault unfolds in a way that takes a classroom about 20 seconds to file into it and latch it up, with just the turning of just a couple of levers. Inside, the vault has a portable toilet, LED lights, a fire extinguisher, a video camera and a ventilation system. The vault sits in the back of a classroom and cannot be broken into or shot into based on the closing mechanism and ballistic barriers surrounding it, Brown said.

Brown said they are preparing to market the product in South Carolina schools.

Jeff Carson, the company's director of product development and a former military police officer with a background in security systems, lives inEnterprise, Ala., where nine people were killed from an EF4 tornado in 2007.

He met Brown when they both worked in the security industry and immediately was drawn to the VAST6 idea.

Carson said the way schools have implemented safety procedures by sheltering in a cinder block hallway or stacking desks up in a classroom and hiding behind them are not sufficient. He said an active shooter will still find a way in, and a tornado could easily knock down those hallway walls.

The vault has been tested and proved to withstand close-range blast from high-powered weapons, as well as flying shrapnel from EF5 tornados, he said.

"It's just asinine to think people want to put kids in a hall and expect them to survive a vortex," Brown said.

Michael Evans, of Campobello, is the company's director of engineering and installation. Evans met Brown through his work as a general contractor and felt instantly connected to the cause.

"For me, I'm a Sunday school teacher. And I see all of these kids, and I think of something happening. I saw this project and thought, 'I want to be a part of this,'" Evans said. "We need to get this through to make it happen. ... In the schools where they're away from home and away from mom and dad, you want them to be safe."

The holdup, they said, is cost. The vault cost $100 per student per 12 years. So for a school that has class sizes of 30, the school would pay $36,000 per vault, per classroom.

"Every education person will say there just ain't enough money," Carson said. "One school we came to said, 'Yeah, we just don't have enough money, and then told us that they just spent $2.5 million on a new football practice field. ... It's going to take getting the right person to see it the way we see it."

Those interested in the vault can contact Big 6 LLP by phone at 864-473-0478 or online at www.big6llp.com.

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