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Army vet CEO says his protective furniture product would have prevented Uvalde tragedy

Family members who lost a sibling place flowers outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Pete Facchini believes that the protective bookcase at ProtectED Furniture could have saved the lives of the 19 children and two teachers shot to death in the Robb Elementary School Shooting in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24.

“Those lives would have been saved if they had our bookcase,” said Facchini, the co-founder and CEO of ProtectED Furniture in Acworth.

The bookcase Facchini referenced is made of steel with bulletproof, ballistic material in the middle and is used to barricade a door to keep a potential shooter from entering. The moment a school is aware of a threat, the bookshelf would be slid over to the door and latched, making the classroom locked from outside entry.

The idea was to have a protective device that blends into the classroom environment without having students feel they were in a “militarized zone,” Facchini said.

In the case of the Uvalde shooting, Facchini said the bookshelf would take just seconds to be put into place.

“If you look at the timeline from the first time the teacher called 911 to the time he gained access to the building, within 15 seconds, those classrooms could have been locked down,” Facchini said.

With his wife, a special education teacher at a Cobb elementary school, and his three children attending school in Cherokee County, Facchini said he has felt uniquely impacted by Uvalde and other mass shootings. Those tragedies prompted him to focus on his product.

Facchini remembers being in the Army in April 2007 when 32 people were killed at Virginia Tech. He began to first think about how to solve this issue in America. He also remembers being in Wales on a military exchange program in December 2012 when he heard about the 20 children and six school staff members shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

After that, he decided to do something about it.

A 20-year Army veteran, Facchini first began looking for a solution in 2014, but once he retired in 2019, he turned his full focus toward making the product a reality.

Jake Ahle, ProtectED’s co-founder who handles sales and marketing, met Facchini while they were in the same Army squadron.

Instead of focusing on the systems of stopping an attack before it happens, such as mental health, social media monitoring, self-reporting, family reporting and other pre-tragedy systems, the company wanted to create something that could work when these systems fail. After the shootings at Columbine High School in April 1999, most schools changed safety protocols focusing on first responders. While Facchini noted the importance of these improvements, he felt more could be done.

“We’ve done a lot to deter or stop attacks, but in the end, when all of those systems fail, there is nothing to protect the kids,” Facchini said. “That was the gap that we felt was there … kids and teachers barricade the doors with furniture, so why not just design a piece of furniture that’s made to be a barricade and put it in these rooms?”

The product, he said, is also applicable in hospitals, offices, commercial outlets, government buildings, and religious and community spaces.

ProtestED’s barricade units were first introduced at a high school in New Jersey last year. The school’s superintendent, who preferred to remain anonymous over potential safety concerns, said he chose to get the bookshelves installed to be proactive, not reactive.

“We as a country continue to be a reactive environment, so a company like this allows an administrator like me to be proactive to prevent these things because, unfortunately, this violence isn’t going to stop,” he said.

Part of his appreciation for the bookcase was its ability to seamlessly fit into the classroom without looking out of the ordinary and alarming students.

“We want these kids to be kids,” he said. “But we also want those teachers and those administrators to understand that this is here for a reason and we’re going to use it if we have to and it’s going to be 100% effective.”

The product has been tough to market, Ahles said, because it’s unique compared to other school safety products. But the Uvalde shooting has spurred interest, Facchini said.

“In the last couple of years since our company has existed and our product has been on the market, there hasn’t been a lot of attention on security products like ours,” Ahle said. “In the last week, the amount of interest that we’ve been getting in our product is 10 times anything we had in the last year and a half, two years, because of what happened in Texas.”

As far as getting the product in Georgia, Facchini and Ahle, who spent much of their military career in Fort Benning, Georgia, have had discussions with local schools and other businesses, but hasn’t closed a deal with Cobb Schools or other local districts, according to Facchini.

“It’s the place we want to go next. Georgia is a home for all of us and we want to be a part of Georgia’s school security solution and protect Georgians,” Ahle said.

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