Students Invent Lock to Stop School Shooters

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Shaken by the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School and determined to prevent future tragedies, a team of high school students in Washington, D.C. has invented a new locking device for classroom doors. It probably wouldn’t have prevented the killing of a teacher at a Nevada middle school Monday, but the young inventors hope the device could keep students and teachers safe if a heavily armed intruder approaches.

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Currently the classroom doors don’t lock at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, a public school located across from Howard University in Washington, D.C. Like schools all across the country, they can’t be locked from the inside due to fire safety regulations.

At Sandy Hook last December, teachers hid students in bathrooms and closets while trying to protect them from shooter Adam Lanza.

Ten Benjamin Banneker Academic High School students, including Anny Harvey, Deonte Antrum and Mark Miranda, led by math teacher John Mahoney began working on a reliable, affordable and easy-to-use device that teachers could place quickly to prevent a classroom door from opening. The device, which they call Dead Stop, consists of a PVC pipe that’s hinged on one side and can be locked on the other side with a steel pin. Fitted over a hydraulic door closer, the device is designed to prevent the door hinge from widening.

When the students did research about patents and commercially available door locks, they said most of the devices they found required physical installation either on the door or the jamb. Other devices were expensive and complicated to install. Theirs should cost less than $5 and be simple enough that a teacher could lock the door in under 30 seconds, they said. Once the danger has passed it should be easy to remove as well.

Recently the students received a Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam grant to support their project. This is the second time they’ve been chosen for the grant — a feat only a small number of schools have achieved, according to a Lemelson-MIT rep. The high schoolers will continue working on their device prototype through next year and then showcase it in June during EurekaFest at MIT.

The high school InvenTeam plans to build and test several prototypes of their design by February, they said. At that point they’ll test how much force the device can withstand. The InvenTeam wants to make DIY instructions publicly available so teachers and principals could make their own right away. They’d also like to collaborate with a company to manufacture the device. Ideally, a law firm could submit a patent application on their behalf on a pro bono basis, they added.

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“We showed the original prototypes to teachers and they were quite appreciative,” the students told me. “Our InvenTeam’s main goal is to keep students and teachers safer when there is a threat of an intruder.”

Hopefully no one ever needs to use a Dead Stop door lock. But having one next to a classroom door, at the ready, could mean saving lives.

Images: A classroom hallway and a diagram showing how the Dead Stop device would work. Credits: Christopher Web (photo) and Mark Miranda, Benjamin Banneker Academic High School Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam (diagram).