This week we saw yet another shooting tragedy in Thousand Oaks, California. This repeat cycle of gun violence in our country has inspired many in the industry to conceive remarkable messaging ideas trying to tackle the issue. But a pair of creative vets have gone a step further--they’ve invented an actual product designed to stop shooters in their tracks when they try to attack children in schools.
Scott Witthaus, a professor at VCU Brandcenter and his late creative partner Chris McCann have created DropLock, a simple barricade system that affixes to doors and can be activated in seconds. Once deployed, it serves as a deterrent that can keep perpetrators at bay for about 10 minutes--buying more time for law enforcement to secure a school premises during an incident.
Witthaus began thinking up the idea after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in 2012. “I was flying home from a recruiting event for the VCU Brandcenter in San Francisco, and I kept thinking that something had to be done--anything,” he says. “I wrote down ideas and wondered what the product might be, how it might work and who I could ask to help me on it.”
He then turned to his friend, Chris McCann, a former Hollywood set builder. “He was as passionate about the idea as I was and we set out to create something.” Together, on a rainy May day on Witthaus’ back porch, they “bounced ideas back and forth, scribbling on paper scraps, just getting ideas out,” he recalls. “Research shows that most active shooter incidents last between eight and 12 minutes. My initial thought was, 'How do we buy time during an incident to keep students safe until law enforcement arrives?'”
After about four hours, they had a rough idea of what they wanted and McCann then created a balsa wood model of their concept. During the brainstorming session, Witthaus and McCann considered several factors: “We kept coming back to simple mechanics--one gross muscle movement versus fine motor movements, easy to install, easy to deploy and cost efficient, seeing that most school districts are financially challenged. We know shooters are looking for the most targets in the shortest amount of time, so our goal was to create a product that can buy time.”
Creating the product presented numerous obstacles, Witthaus says. He and McCann tested out many iterations and saw many failures. Also, “the IP to patent process is incredibly long and complex,” Witthaus says. DropLock acquired its U.S. Patent in early 2017.
Witthaus says his biggest challenge, however, was the loss of his creative partner McCann. “In late 2014 he developed a rare and aggressive form of cancer and passed away in early 2015,” Witthaus says. “That set me back on many levels, but fortunately I was able to tell him before he died that we had a product that could be patented and the process had started.”
McCann’s wife Lisa is now partner in the company, and DropLock is currently in its third beta version.
Witthaus and team are positioning DropLock as a step in a school's active shooter protocol, though it’s a product that could easily travel beyond, to government, healthcare and corporate facilities. He hopes to keep the product under $200 per unit. “If the average school has 30 doors that qualify it would only be $6,000 or less to protect students,” he says. “We don't want this to be a major budget line item for school districts.”
Witthaus says the product has been reviewed by teachers, sheriffs, adminstrators, Navy Seals and the Dean of the VCU School of Business. The DropLock team worked with The Martin Agency on a brand style book, site design and competitive analysis, and Witthaus says he's grateful for how supportive VCU has been throughout the whole process. Now, he and his team are in the process of finalizing materials and design and then hope to get test products to schools and teachers.
Ultimately, “I'm hoping to find is a partner company, ideally in the security market, that is as passionate about doing something to protect our kids as we are, and license the IP to them to speed up the process in getting the product to market," Witthaus says. "I realize that means giving up a fair amount of profit, but it's about keeping kids safe first.”