Tumwater lock device inventor aims to keep students safer

Tumwater man develops device so that locks be operated from inside a classroom; national sales booming

lpemberton@theolympian.comMarch 20, 2013 

A South Sound man has invented a product designed to increase student safety in the event of a school emergency.

And so far School Safe – a 3-inch-long metal device that allows a door to be secured from the inside of a classroom – has been installed in more than 500 schools around the country, including ones in the Olympia, Bethel and Fife school districts.

Tom Kuehn of Tumwater is founder and chief executive officer of Global Innovations Coterie, LLC. He also is the former maintenance director for the Olympia School District, which is where he came up with the concept for School Safe during the 2003-04 school year.

“We did an all-hazards assessment of the entire school district,” Kuehn said. “The number one complaint was that during a lockdown teachers had to go into the hallway (to lock their classroom’s doors).”

School Safe is installed on a classroom door or jamb, which traditionally lock from the hallway to meet fire code.

It allows teachers to leave their classroom locked throughout the day, and blocks the lock from engaging. If there’s an emergency or drill, the device can be shifted so that the lock can fully engage.

“I think it is a terrific idea,” said Laura Currie, a fifth-grade teacher at Centennial Elementary School in Olympia. “The benefit of School Safe is teachers can secure their room quickly without having to retrieve their keys and exiting the room to lock the door. If, for some reason, the students have a need, they can secure the room quickly without a key.”

Kuehn left the district in 2006, and spent a couple of years developing the idea in Arizona, with his business partner Deby Palm. They worked with a fire department and school in Flagstaff to develop the product, she said.

School Safe also was piloted at Jefferson Middle School in Olympia.

“I believe the door latch, one of many tools we use, will help deal with unforeseen violence,” said Jefferson principal Michael Cimino.

Kuehn returned to South Sound in 2008 to work as program administrator with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s School Facilities and Organization. He said he operates his business on his own time, and that School Safe is just one of his inventions.

“My first patent was for a recycled event chair,” Kuehn said, noting that Take a Seat has been used at air shows, movie screenings and other special events. “I have several other projects.”

Each School Safe device costs less than $10, Kuehn said. There are four different configurations to cover whether a door opens in or out, and if a hinge is on the right or left side.

Ever since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in December, Kuehn said his company has been having a tough time keeping up with demand.

“For the first couple of years, it didn’t show a profit,” Kuehn said. “From that point, it just exploded. We’ve been inundated (with orders).”

Kuehn has more inventions in the works, and said he hopes his story will keep kids safe – and also inspire others to follow through with their creations.

“Everybody actually invents,” he said. “When you’re doing a job and you find an easier way to do it, you’re actually inventing.”

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 lpemberton@theolympian.com theolympian.com/edblog @Lisa_Pemberton

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