By CHRIS HARRIS, CJ Staff Writer Commonwealth Journal
Lots of people watched the news about last month’s Sandy Hook Elementary shootings and wished that they could do something. One local business owner is putting his money — literally — where his heart is.
David Morris, president of Modern Systems, Inc., is planning to donate a high-tech alarm to every city and county school in Pulaski County, in an effort to help keep the children of this area safer.
“Modern Systems is going to be installing a panic alarm, or duress alarm, system (in the schools) at no cost, directly or indirectly to the school systems,” he said. “I realized I couldn’t do everything, but I could help protect my community.”
That includes Science Hill Independent School and Somerset Christian School as well as schools in the Somerset and Pulaski County districts.
Morris was inspired to do this at last week’s “Love to Sandy Hook” prayer vigil, held at The Center for Rural Development.
“When I pulled into the parking lot, I had no idea that I was going to do what I’m going to do,” he said.
Listening to the speakers on Thursday — particularly the local school personnel, who talked about making the safety of students a priority — flipped the switch in Morris’ head. The realization of the tight budgets with which schools operate, making it difficult to purchase a highly effective security system on their own, made Morris realize he could help.
“The school systems are very limited, and I was in a position to make a difference now,” he said.
Morris said he wanted to do something” after hearing the news about the shootings in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, in which 26 people — 20 elementary school students among them — were killed: “Something I felt was meaningful and could make a difference.
“I’d struggled since the tragedy to find out what that was,” he added, “but I feel like I’m blessed to be in a position to help when seconds matter.”
The “panic button” will be but in the front office of every school, which the area where “usually a threat is detected,” said Morris. The button can be placed in different locations throughout the office, so that it’s more easily accessible by those in a particular area.
Once the button is pressed, it sounds a silent alarm, with a signal that is transmitted to a Modern Systems monitoring station. They will immediately notify 911, which will dispatch appropriate personnel. No call from the school to 911 is necessary.
“The reason why we don’t want them to call back to explain is that we want to get the first responders rolling and police responding as quickly as possible,” said Morris. “There will be training required and procedures in place (to handle a situation) if they feel they’ve accidentally pressed the button.”
Morris also said there are a number of scenarios in which pressing the duress button would be a good idea. “It isn’t in place just for (a time when) they see someone getting out of the car with a weapon,” he noted. “If they sense a threat of any kind where they would call 91, I would encourage them to press the button. It could be something like a fight breaking it. It could be any threat.”
Morris hopes to start installations within the next 30 days, and expects the process to take two to three weeks to complete.
It won’t be cheap. Morris noted that he made the decision in order to do something to help without stopping to contemplate the cost it would mean to his business to do this for the schools free of charge. He estimated that the systems themselves and the service for the company’s monitoring system would represent “tens of thousands of dollars” over the next three years.
“But that’s okay,” he added. “I feel fortunate to be able to do it.”
In fact, Morris is even getting others into the act. “I’m going to encourage other security companies around the country to do the same, to do their part to make security more affordable to schools systems,” said Morris. “I’m doing this all in honor and in memory of Sandy Hook.”
Morris said he’s already notified Honeywell, an industry-leading security system manufacturer, for which Modern Systems is a First Alert dealer — part of a network of independent dealers around the country,
“My opinion is, these are some top-notch companies,” said Morris. “I’ve already reached out to them and they’re talking about ways they can communicate this nationwide. It’s preliminary right now, but the wheels are in motion to get it out.”
Morris himself is at the top of his class. A native of Pulaski County and Somerset High School alum, Morris founded Modern Systems as a teenager in 1979. The company which deals in security and entertainment electronics, has offices in Somerset, Lexington, and Bowling Green, Ky., now, and is the largest independent security system dealer in the state. He’s also recently been on the cover of his industry’s magazine, “Security Sales & Integration.”
But it’s what Morris is doing now in the wake of a nation frightened by the headlines out of Newtown that may turn out to be his greatest legacy.
“Any event like this is tragic, any loss of life, but this one just seemed different because it affected so many young children,” said Morris. “It struck at my core.”