The Newest School Security Accessory: Backpacks

It's almost back to school time - picked up your bulletproof backpack yet?

Although not yet available in Canada, the makers of the new bulletproof backpack say their product offers added protection for students and parents worried about school violence, but at least one weapons expert doubts they'll do much to make schools safer.

"In my opinion, it's a one-in-a-gazillion chance that that thing will work," said Oliver Salvador, who runs a private security and consulting company in Edmonton.

The creators of the backpack, however, say they're giving parents an extra chance to protect their kids.

"At least they'll have their backpack that they can hold up in front of them," said Joe Curran, a carpenter who along with his business partner Mike mPelonzi has been selling the new product online through their Massachusetts-based company, MJ Safety Solutions, since last week. Once they can be sure they're legally able to export the backpacks here, they'll be shipping them to Canadian buyers as well.

"We're just trying to give kids a defensive tool to use in case something does happen," said Curran of the backpacks, which sell for $175 US.

The idea came out of concern following the Columbine shootings in Littleton, Colo., in 1999. After several years of developing the product, Curran and Pelonzi started supplying the backpacks, which offer a level of protection similar to a bulletproof vest used by police, to friends.

Since they started selling online last week, they've sold out of their initial stock of several hundred backpacks and are now ordering a new shipment from the Massachusetts factory that produces them.

But while they may withstand a bullet, Debbie Engel, chairman of the Edmonton Catholic School board, wonders whether the backpacks will be effective. "Think about the practicality of sitting at your desk with your backpack 24/7," she said Tuesday.

Salvador, meanwhile, said that in order for the backpacks to work, people need training in how to use protective gear. That requires learning how to get out of a dangerous situation before resorting to the bulletproof shield, he noted.

Rather than invest in protective gear, Salvador advises schools and parents do more to teach kids to get out of violent situations. That means, for example, coaching them on avoiding bullying situations, which can easily lead to violence, Salvador said.