Parenting: School bag alarm

The iSafe school bag packs a surprise for predators and bullies.

A recently released school bag looks like any other but David Murphy says packs a surprise for predators and bullies.
August 31, 2011 3:15:28 PM PDT
This product caught my eye late last year amid the usual news items on bullies and predators affecting school kids. It's a school bag that includes the same sort of features as any other (canvass construction, padded shoulder straps, multiple compartments), but with a couple of unique differences. If the wearer feels threatened and in need of help, a special cord can be pulled which activates a pair of deafening audio alarms as well as a bright strobe light, in theory, drawing attention to the problem and perhaps scaring-off the trouble makers.

It's called the iSafe Bag, introduced by Illinois inventor, Edric Sizemore, last year. So far, the bag is in its infancy, production-wise, but it was recently added to several dotcoms (a general internet search for iSafe School Bag will link you to at least one familiar online retailer and one well-known clearing house). The company hopes the bags will be on store shelves by this time next year.

Sizemore says he came up with the idea after considering the plight of youngsters who are accosted. A safeguard built-in to an item most kids carry along with them anyway seemed like a good match. "The kids are going to wear a backpack anyway," Sizemore says (I spoke with him over the phone recently from his Elk Grove Village, Illinois, headquarters. "In a bullying scenario or other harmful situation, it's better to have something than nothing."

The bag appears normal, and the activation cord is hidden beneath an easily accessible Velcro tab. Once pulled, two dual alarms sound, each operating at 125 decibels, a volume Sizemore says is hard to ignore. In tests, the alarms could be heard 100 yards away. The alarms are designed to project away from the bag to make them a little less intense if you're the one doing the activating. At the same time, a bright strobe light embedded in the bag begins flashing, an added bonus if a problem crops up after dark. The whole system is powered by a pair of standard 9-volt batteries. Sizemore claims the alarm is capable of sounding for two-and-a-half hours straight, which he points out could be a lifesaver if your child is stuck somewhere, say, in a gully after a car accident, or a hiking misstep.

The product is new and there's a dearth of customer reviews. Even Sizemore admits he's only heard back from one parent so far, who said her daughter was saved from a bullying situation when she set-off the alarm in a school yard. But the iSafe bag has gotten some play on a few online forums from people reacting to the general idea of the product. Some think it's great. Others think it's overkill. And a few observed that they probably wouldn't pay any more attention to an iSafe alarm as they do a car alarm, to which Sizemore says, they would if they actually heard the alarm because it's so darned loud. Another criticism is that an alarmed bag might offer up a false sense of security. Sizemore admits that the iSafe bag, like any other safety device, is not 100-percent effective, and is best used by kids who are also versed in other common sense safety measures, like being aware of their surroundings. "I see it as an additional tool to increase the chance of safety or escape from a harmful situation," he says.

Sizemore also encourages parents to explain to kids that the bag is not a toy, but instead a life-saving tool. Playing around with it in school, he admits, is a great way to get the bag banned by a school principal, and it's important for a child to understand the ramifications of misusing the product.

For some parents, the protection provided by the iSafe bag may be worth it, no matter the cost. For others, cost is liable to be a serious consideration, because the price is steep, as compared with alternatives. I priced regular school bags online at discount retailers at between about 20 and 40 dollars. The least expensive iSafe bag runs $59.99 for a smaller unit designed for grade school kids, all the way up $89.99 for a bag large enough for high school and college-aged kids (although the larger bags do included extra features like a pouch for a laptop or iPad). The weight of the bag when empty, by the way, is only about a half-pound heavier than a normal bag even with all the alarm apparatus, so at least that's pretty much a wash.

For more information on iSafe bags, you can link to the company website here.

---David Murphy

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