HUDSON — Two local business partners are proving that sometimes the best offense is a good defense.
Bill Cushwa of Hudson and Dave Soulsby of Silver Lake launched the production of their Bearacade Lockdown Response invention following the deadly shooting at Chardon High School six years ago this week, just as school safety and the protection of students and staff come to the fore once again with the deadly shooting in Parkland, Fla.
“School safety is complex,” Cushwa said. “Since Parkland, there is obviously a heightened sensitivity to active shooters. However, schools are tasked with managing restraining orders, custody disputes and domestic and workplace violence concerns as well. Incidents of bullying, harassment, and assault are also devastating our children every day.”
Concerned about the nature of makeshift and improvised lockdown drills for their children, Cushwa and Soulsby sought out the expertise of administrators, teachers, engineers, code officials and safety forces to develop a better way to secure a classroom or office door during a hostile attack.
Cushwa and Soulsby’s company is called National School Control Systems, LLC. Its offices are located in Hudson, and its products are made by an extruder it contracts with in North Royalton.
“In 2017, our units were used in eight actual hostile intruder incidents, including three students bringing guns to school, two belligerent parental custody disputes, two domestic violence issues that spilled over into the workplace, and one shopping mall incident where the customers and employees of a store were able to quickly move to the back of the store and deploy our custom unit,” Cushwa said.
In each case, the institution was able to quickly lock down and the intruder was apprehended before “any direct onslaught of the secured doors,” he said.
“What we do boils down to simplicity and time,” Cushwa said. “In the heat of the moment, Bearacade is the public response before the police arrive. Our unit has to be simple to use and quick to secure a door when evacuation is difficult or dangerous. The underlying emphasis is providing time. Time for the occupants of a room and time for the good guys to arrive.”
The Bearacade is made of a strong polymer resin similar to Kevlar, Cushwa said. Under normal conditions, it hangs on the wall like a fire extinguisher. When needed, the teacher, church official or business employee can grab the unit from the wall, slide it under the door, drop the unit’s pin into a hole in the floor and get away from the door.
Hudson Police Chief Dave Robbins sees the Bearacade as an important part of a school's safety plans and procedures.
“This is one more tool that can be used to provide safety in the event of an armed assailant in a school setting; to put one more roadblock between the children and someone meant to do them harm,” Robbins said.
The chief said he was aware of Cushwa and Soulsby's efforts to design and perfect the Bearacade, and watched them test their new invention in various stages of development.
“I trusted they did the proper testing. It was well thought out, easy to put in place … and something anybody could to,” he said.
Robbins noted there was also some concern that a student could use Bearacade to lock a door, but its inventors showed how a first responder can defeat it. This defeat mechanism would not be easily or quickly discovered by someone in an active situation, he added.
Fire Chief Jerry Varnes said Cushwa sought his advice while he was developing his invention. Varnes said he was able to make a few suggestions and a couple of them were used in the final product. He also noted the importance of the device’s defeat mechanism, known only to school, fire and police officials.
“I looked at it closely for that purpose,” he said. “I had some involvement, but I would call it more in an advisory role.”
Varnes said he likes the product, adding, “It’s a sad testament you even have to have something like this. It’s just awful it had to be created.”
The fire chief noted it was a “struggle” for Cushwa to perfect his invention because all of the earlier versions violated building codes. They were too permanent with bolts into the door or when they were locked in place they were difficult to unlock or remove once the threat was over, he said.
“It was a little on the complicated side, but in the end it turned out to be a wonderful device,” Varnes said. “It meets the code and meets the requirements of schools, churches and businesses that are scrambling in today’s society to find a way to want to protect the people inside.”
Cushwa said all Hudson City School have Bearacade units. Hudson Montessori School and Seton Catholic school have them, too. According to the company’s press release, Bearacade units are in more than 125,000 classrooms, hundreds of retail locations, and dozens of churches and other institutions in the U.S. and abroad. Units are also used on select bases of the U.S. Air Force.
“We presented to Portage County schools but a lot of them put this type of an issue to the bottom of the pile on their desk,” Cushwa said. “Now what we're finding since the Parkland, Florida, shooting, all of a sudden people we presented to three, four, five years ago are now realizing, 'Oh, maybe we should do something.'”
Cushwa said he and his staff have been swamped since the Florida shooting, answering calls from schools all over the country.
“It's been sad to talk about [the need for Bearacade] to begin with, but it's even sadder that 17 people had to die for them to try to find our paperwork or get in touch with us again,” he said.
Reporter Steve Wiandt can be reached at 330-541-9420, email@example.com or @SteveWiandt_RPC.