around. “Not surprisingly, having more of these
hard security features does relate to kids feeling
heightened anxiety and more like their safety is at
risk,” says Amanda Nickerson, the director of the
Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention and a
professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo,
The State University of New York.
For Isquith, Amulet’s power lies in its ability
to turn everyday furniture into bulletproof shields
with no visible fortification required. Even so, many
designers worry about feeding a culture of fear and
isolation that many experts say contributes to the
underlying issues that could result in mass violence.
In recent years, some have embraced more passive
strategies such as ensuring unobstructed sightlines
at building entrances or using reflecting pools and
other landscape features as natural barriers—
methods often bundled under the term “crime prevention
through environmental design,” or CPTED (
The new Sandy Hook school is a prime example.
A wide, boulder-strewn rain garden runs the length
of the building’s curving façade, creating a natural, moat-like barrier between the parking lot and
the school. To cross the rain garden, a person must
cross one of three footbridges (an element inspired
by the many footbridges sprinkled throughout the
town). Limiting the number of entrances allows each
to be surveilled well. The rain garden is more than
a deterrent. It helps slow rainwater runoff while
simultaneously beautifying the building, and even
provides opportunities for environmental education.
Similarly, the colorful sunshades on the building’s
exterior, spaced at 18 inches, deter intruders while
also reducing solar gain.
Of course, the school has its share of more standard fortifications. The building’s entrance—a sally
port that requires that all visitors identify themselves before being admitted—is ballistic rated and
blast resistant. Classrooms feature heavy-duty doors
that automatically lock (with a deadbolt) and side-lites that use force-resistant laminated glazing. Is
any of the furniture bulletproof? Currently, no,
says McFadden, who isn’t convinced that ballistic
furnishings like bulletproof whiteboards (on offer
from Hardwire Armor Systems) are the way to go. “If
you’re concerned with someone who’s already gotten into your building and into the classroom, that
means a whole lot of other things have failed,” she
notes, expressing a viewpoint she says was shared
by Sandy Hook’s security consultant: “If someone
has gotten into the classroom, and you and a few
students are hiding behind a portable whiteboard …
That’s a bad situation.”
A HEALING ENVIRONMENT
Still, there are settings where ballistic furniture may
make sense, explains Randall Atlas, Ph.D., president
of Atlas Safety & Security Design in Fort Lauderdale,
Florida. “[In] a high-risk, high-profile position—let’s
say the triage nurse at a hospital. It’s volatile, there
are lots of emotions, people are upset, they’re angry,
they’re concerned, they’re nervous, they’re scared.
That can go from zero to 60 in a New York second,”
he says. In such cases, a bulletproof chair may not be
such a bad idea, Atlas adds, provided the organization has conducted a risk assessment and determined
where such measures would be most effective.
Most seem to oppose the concept of ballistic furniture not from a philosophical standpoint,
but rather from a practical one. “If you’re spending money on things like fortifying the desk, you’re
probably misappropriating your money,” McFadden
says. Though the price tag will depend on a variety of factors, outfitting an entire office workstation
with Amulet could cost as much as $1,000, though
Isquith says his company is actively trying to reduce
the cost of the product. Others argue that the current
focus on active shooter events is, itself, misguided.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, the odds of a student (ages 5-18) being
killed in a school shooting is roughly one in 2.5
million, whereas the odds of being killed in a car
accident are roughly one in 16,000. “Schools are the
safest places for kids to be,” Nickerson says.
As important as safety is, interior designers
have an even larger role to play in creating environments that inspire,
nurture, and, in the
case of communities
that have experienced
tragedy, help heal. At
Sandy Hook, a series
of “tree houses” jut out
from the main building.
These cheery, daylight-filled spaces provide
views of the surrounding forest and a place to
work on group projects.
Elsewhere, a flower-shaped mural of ceramic
tile reminds students to “Be Kind,” a refrain of former Principal Dawn Hochsprung, who was killed
trying to stop the shooter that day in 2012.
BUT CELEBRATING RESILIENCE
More recently, a group of interior designers in
Charleston, South Carolina, helped the congregation
of (Mother) Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal
Church outfit its new resiliency center, which will
use part of a $3.6 million federal grant from the Office
for Victims of Crime, part of the U.S. Department of
Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, to provide counseling, support groups, and other social services to
those affected by the shooting of nine churchgoers
(including the senior pastor) during a prayer service
in June 2015. The center will occupy a white-painted
Charleston house directly adjacent to the church.
Jennifer Rhodes Mendelsohn, ASID, was among
the designers who helped the church sort through
Ballistic Furniture Systems
offers a variety of security
and breach-proof products,
including doors, cubicles/
panels, and auditorium