In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, glass is at the forefront of many discussions to improve school safety. In some cases, offenders have used glazed areas as an entry point, begging the question: If schools used bullet-resistant glass, would students be safer? The answer is not so simple.
Bullet-resistant glass is relatively expensive and in some products the composite layers can be highly flammable. When manufacturers layer thermoplastic and polycarbonate between sheets of glass to help absorb a bullet’s energy, the downside is the combination of glass and plastic may generate tremendous amounts of flames and smoke during a fire, potentially causing further life injury and property damage. This wouldn’t be cause for great concern if school fires were rare. However, data show there are a large number of school fires annually (an average of 6,200 school structure fires between 2005 and 2009). Building and design professionals may be solving one problem with ballistic glazing, but are they creating another by reducing fire safety in schools?
As Rod Van Buskirk quotes in a recent Glass magazine blog post about improving school security levels through glass: “complex problems require complex solutions.” It will take time to develop affordable designs that can improve security levels without compromising other areas of life safety. Each step forward is important. Access doors are often a first line of defense in schools, and it is imperative we address methods for bolstering the protection they provide.
To address the issue of school safety, design and industry professionals across the country are working on solutions. Schools are exploring options from removing glass altogether to retroffiting schools with security glazing products that provide dual protection. Currently available products such as Pilkington Pyrostop® fire-resistant glass and other glass firewalls are available with up to a Level III bullet resistance rating and two-hour fire ratings, without the flammability issues that may come from security glazing products in fire conditions. They can be combined with other glazing products to achieve nearly any level of security protection.
The protective glazing committee has also formed a task group to help lead the way on what a recent USGlass magazine article calls, “glass solutions to create safer schools.” Thom Zaremba, Glazing Code Committee consultant to GANA, notes the common denominator will likely be hardening the exterior envelope while still ensuring law enforcement officers have the ability to respond quickly to emergencies.
What questions do you think the glass industry should be asking as our country works to address school safety?