LAS CRUCES — A new bulletproof material, developed by a researcher at New Mexico State University and marketed through a grant from the National Science Foundation, is helping to keep students of Las Cruces Public Schools safer.
L. Roy Xu, who in 2015 was a research associate professor of mechanical engineering at NMSU, has spent more than 20 years experimenting with ballistic-resistant materials as a Department of Defense researcher. He is currently a research faculty member at the University of New Mexico.
In April 2007, Xu visited the campus of Virginia Tech – just one week before the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. He visited the building where the shooting would occur. Five years later, the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, made Xu realize he needed to do more.
When he dropped his elementary-aged son off at school in El Paso the day after the Sandy Hook shooting, he noticed nothing had changed.
“I found that I could just walk right into the school, and no one stopped me,” Xu said. “So I felt really, really concerned about my son’s safety. I actually bought a bulletproof backpack for my son, but I found them to be too expensive for most students to afford.”
So Xu developed a hybrid material – a combination including Kevlar, polycarbonate aluminum and ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene – to create lightweight, bulletproof and stab-proof shields. The Carry-on Shield, which weighs about two pounds and can be carried in a backpack, can stop a bullet from a .357 Magnum. It can also protect against knives and nails.
When the shield is unfolded, it is 11 inches by 22 inches. The shield has an elastic strap that can be slipped over the head, allowing the shield to be worn like an apron. It can also be slung around to protect one’s back while running away from a threat.
Todd Gregory, the safety and security coordinator for LCPS, recently purchased about 50 of the shields for the district’s security guards – making LCPS the first school district in the nation to use the bulletproof shields.
“I started with our security guards, because it seemed like a great tool for them,” Gregory said. “They’re unarmed, and they didn’t have any protection. This gives them a tool, some protection, in case they have to intervene in a situation.”
Gregory first met with Xu over the summer of 2016. He said he was drawn to the product because it is lightweight, compact, diverse and affordable. The shields, which Xu said retail for $150 – or about $125 for students – were sold to the district at a significant discount because the school agreed to pilot the program. A traditional Kevlar vest can start at about $300 and cost as much as thousands, Gregory said.
“Everything is a budget item these days,” Gregory said. “But a portion of my budget is for security equipment, and these seemed like a great investment. They’re simple, they offer a lot of protection and require almost no training. It’s simple enough for a child to use.”
The shields arrived in December and are currently being distributed to the guards.
Over the next few years, if the shields prove to be a good investment, Gregory said he hopes to get more. He would like to distribute them to principals, then teachers, and eventually have some available in classrooms in case of an emergency.
“They could just hang by the fire extinguisher as part of your emergency response kit,” he said. “Then, if the school is put on lockdown, they could be distributed to students and staff. In that worst-case scenario, these shields would give you a fighting chance.”
Gregory said the mantra for dealing with an active shooter is “Run, Hide, Fight” – a protocol endorsed by the Department of Homeland Security. The shield, Gregory said, is a useful tool for all three tactics.
The Carry-on Shield is currently being sold on Amazon and eBay, Xu said.
Xu has approached other school districts to discuss introducing the shields on their campuses, but only LCPS has agreed to try the shields.