Confidence through An Alternative Defense

Confidence through An Alternative Defense

After the Sandy Hook shooting, something needed to be done

"Massacre of Innocents: 20 Children, 6 Adults Killed at Sandy Hook."

"Unthinkable: Gunman kills 26 at Elementary School."

"Why? Connecticut, Country Seeks Answers to Killings."

The headlines were horrifying, evoking emotion from anyone who was reading them on December 15, 2012, the day after Adam Lanza fatally shot and killed 20 elementary school students and 6 adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School. While the tragic event was over, it will never be forgotten.

Bruce Childs was traveling home from a business trip to Florida when he first heard the news of a shooting at the elementary school. Childs was emotionally affected by the tragedy, as he thought immediately about his two school-age children at home. He was still overwhelmed by the tragic event four years later, when he sat down to talk to me about his solution.  

As he traveled home from the airport that day he couldn’t stop thinking about Newtown, and what could have been done differently to keep those 26 people safe. That night, he called his sister, Lori O’Neill and his nephew Byron Childs, a member of the Chardon Police Department in Ohio who had  responded to a school shooting earlier that year. They sat down at his kitchen table and Childs told them, “We have got to do something.”

“We started thinking about ways to put some sort of product or device in the hands of the teacher,” Childs said. “What can we give a teacher or an administrator that can help them defend themselves? Because otherwise, they are helpless.”

It was that night that Alternative Defense Strategies (ADS) began to form. The three family members started a long journey that would stretch out over the course of a year and a half. They researched school shootings, active shooter response protocols, and the mindset of a potential victim, as well as the psychology of a person who wants to inflict violence, to get a better feel for the environment that they would introduce a product into.

They even received training to become certified as law enforcement trainers in the use of OC products for defense, as well as receiving the same kind of training that schools use for active shooter situations to understand the kinds of people who would be using the product. They talked to school administrators, police departments and first responders about what kind of products would work best in an active shooter situation.

“We used a pretty defined set of variables of what would meet our criteria,” O’Neill said. “First and foremost, we wanted it to be a non-lethal solution because we didn’t want to cause harm to any by-standers, students or children. What we wanted to do is focus on the violent person and try to disrupt them so we can reduce the number of injured or killed.”

From there they started trying out different techniques, solutions and products. When they came across a pepper gel solution, they knew they finally found the definition of “alternative defense strategies.”

“We saw this product that looks like a fire extinguisher, it is very recognizable,” Childs said. “We liked that people would see it and feel like they know what to do. It operates very similarly, you pull a pin and you press the button and you can use it from anywhere from five feet to 25 feet.”

In April 2014, Safe Zone CM™ was introduced. Safe Zone CM™ is a long-distance pepper gel defense system that allows the user to disrupt violence long enough to escape or first responders to arrive without harming bystanders.

The gel is made of a potent solution that irritates a person’s eyes and impairs vision for up to a full hour. The pepper gel can be provided in the Safe Zone CM™ system, which can include a bleeding control kit, and one or two canisters of pepper gel , all in a 20 gauge steel cabinet with a keypad lock that can be mounted anywhere in a facility for ease of access. ADS is also available to train users on how to handle the products and even give pointers and advice on the best places to install them.

“Our goal was not to be the hero that takes out the shooter,” O’Neill said. “Our goal was to create the opportunity to survive.”

Once ADS decided on the solution, they began to canvas facilities that would benefit from implementing their product. One of those places was Christ Community Chapel, a large church located in Hudson, Ohio.

“I heard about ADS from a word of mouth recommendation,” Rick Schuping, administrator at Christ Community Chapel, said. “[The product] appealed to me because it was innovative and because of the non-lethal way it disrupts an emergency.  We also liked the lockbox that it came in; it gave us the ability to put it out in a public area without the fear that someone would misuse it.”

The Hudson-based church, has four campuses in Northeast Ohio, and on any given Sunday, there can be up to 2,800 people coming in and out of the facility which includes a sanctuary, children’s ministry wing, administrative offices, a gymnasium and a second worship venue that includes about 350 seats. When implementing Safe Zone CM™, Schuping said all he wanted was to maintain a level of security.

“I get a number of notifications that update me with what is going on with other churches, and there have been a number of attacks and things that happen,” Schuping said. “The reality of it is this: Even if we call something in immediately, it is still going to take time for police to arrive on site. In those critical first few minutes, there is a tremendous amount of damage that can be done. So, we have mechanisms or means on-site that allow us to slow that down or prevent further damage or harm to people.”

Together, Schuping and other church officials have been working to create a plan that would increase security on the campus in the case of an emergency. The plan includes bringing on a security team, having a police presence on-site, and re-evaluating the ingress and egress of the building. Safe Zone CM™ was a security element that fit right in.

“There are many things that we’ve done here to enhance security overall, and I believe Safe Zone CM™ is an integral part of it,” Schuping said. “Our staff members and security team welcomed it, and they saw it as a good addition to what we were doing.”

Christ Community Chapel deploys more than 10 lockboxes strategically placed around the 120,000 square foot campus. Schuping took the advice of ADS when choosing the locations for the products to be installed. Most are found around the corner from an entrance, or down the hall from a highly populated area, like the main lobby right outside the sanctuary.

“We had a map of the building and we looked at places where we could put Safe Zone CM™ that would be kind of discreet but also put someone in a response perspective where they have a good line of sight to use the pepper gel,” Schuping said. “Typically, if someone were to come inside the building they would come to the main atrium, so we have units set up around corners that are hidden but can be reached if they have to.”

The Safe Zone CM™ units have not been used yet, something that Schuping is grateful for, but the installation has gone over so well they have implemented the product at a second 35,000 square foot campus with an average of 325 attendees.

“Our sentiment when we started, of having a non-lethal way for people to defend themselves, is something that people feel as well,” O’Neill said. “That is also consistent with all faith-based organizations, it doesn’t matter what your religion is, all faith traditions are about peace and non-violence and yet there is recognition that they’re vulnerable, too.”

ADS has found a way to bridge the gap by asking police departments to test their products as well as receive the training their company offers. These police departments then return the favor by recommending Safe Zone CM to organizations and school districts that are putting protocols in place to respond to the  threat of violence.

“The role of law enforcement and their belief in what we are doing is really critical to our success,” O’Neill said. “Because they are the folks that companies and organizations turn to for advice.”

Alternative Defense Strategies took the unimaginable, tragic events that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary and turned them into an opportunity to survive an active shooter situation, something you cannot put a price on.

This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of Security Today.

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