How glazing can improve school security

Protecting people and property with advanced glazing solutions

While many schools may sit empty this fall, school security will continue to be a major concern when classrooms reopen. As architects reimagine public spaces, security glazing can help provide much needed peace of mind.

When shots rang out at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, that tragic event seemed to set up a devastating new style of school shootings. School shooting incidents occur globally, but the frequency, severity, and awareness has increased since Columbine. Since then, architects and facility managers have reimagined the role and importance of security glazing in schools. Eastman’s advanced glazing solutions have helped protect students and teachers, while allowing natural light and noise damping—a combination that has demonstrated a positive impact on learning environments.

 Designing safer schools

Whether constructing new facilities or retrofitting existing ones, the building industry can design safer schools. Vulnerability to targeted shootings can be lessened with mindful design for occupant safety. For instance, entry points and how potential threats may progress into the building are critically important. Because targeted violence in schools is unpredictable, risk management efforts must focus on reducing risk and vulnerabilities by surveillance, detection, hardening of the structure, and effective response capabilities. One of the most effective protective measures is layering.

Layering of the facility places multiple obstacles between the point of entry and classrooms, as well as common areas such as libraries, cafeterias, music rooms, and gyms. These obstacles make it more difficult for intruders to gain entry or access to specific areas, allowing more time for staff and students to react and seek safety.

 Layers of defense

School security starts before the first stake is put in the ground. Site selection, topography, geometry, and orientation of the building as well as natural forestation and fields all should be considered. Once the assailant gets to the building, the hardening of the structure must take over. The first layer of building structure defense is the exterior of the building. The goal is to make it virtually impenetrable to intruders without looking like a fort. Locking doors and having laminated security glass in all openings (windows, doors, skylights, etc.) is a solid first layer. The second layer is to place secure barriers inside, such as doors that are lockable in corridors to shut down access to classrooms and gathering spaces. Glass infill in these doors helps create a barrier with visibility if that fits with the security plan. The third layer of defense is to secure the classrooms from within, whether by locking doors or creating safe spaces.

We’ll focus here on the outermost layer of defense—hardening or securing the exterior face of the building. Securing the exterior can be accomplished initially by installing or replacing the glass at access points—entry doors, door lites, and adjacent panels; ground level and other accessible windows; and skylights—with advanced glazing solutions provided by laminated security glazing with Saflex® PVB interlayers. Lobby entrances should be located to allow visibility of anyone approaching the building. A double set of locking entry doors, which are activated independently, with a vestibule between the doors allowing visible assessment and a security check before full entrance to the building is allowed, is also good practice. 

Differences between safety and security glazing

Glass as a building material is highly sought after. Many studies have pointed to the beneficial relationship between natural light and well-being. But conventional glass can be the most vulnerable and easily penetrated part of the building, so assessing what type of glazing is used where is critical. There are differences between safety and security glazing:
Safety glazing:

  • Protection against accidental human impact
  • Protection against falling glass due to breakage from hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and natural loads
  • Code-driven applications requiring break-safe characteristics

Security glazing:

  • Protection against an intentional act or man-made threat
  • Protection against forced entry, ballistic, and blast
  • Glazing strategy to protect people and contents, and deter or slow entry
  • Strictly voluntary requirements

 Hardening the building exterior

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has established specific guidelines for windows and doors that will help alleviate harm to people and damage to property:

  • Not placing conventional glass near doors to limit forced ingress potential
  • Using laminated glass instead of conventional glass (annealed, heat-strengthened, or tempered glass)
  • Using forced entry and/or ballistic-resistant glazing in high-risk areas
  • Minimizing interior glazing at lockdown entry points
  • Elevating windows above ground level to restrict entry capability
  • Using safety window film on the interior glass surface to reduce spalling glass if broken

Laminated security glass resists multiple assaults from blunt or sharp objects used to gain entry. It would take several blows for an intruder to break through a window or the glass lite of a door with laminated security glass. Multiple impacts are typically necessary before laminated security glass yield an opening. This delay provides valuable time for those inside the school to react quickly and potentially save lives.

 Glazing objectives and options

There are multiple choices of laminated security glazing standards, most of which are strictly voluntary options such as forced ingress glazing, blast resistant glazing, and bullet resistant glazing. However, all schools can benefit and should have in place the minimum security glazing, which meets the following standards:

  • Safety glazing per ANSI Z967.1 Class A, Type I
  • Impact standards as per ASTM F1233—Standard Test Method for Security Glazing Systems and Materials and ASTM E2395—Voluntary Security Performance of Window and Door Assemblies With and Without Glazing Impact
  • Security against explosions as per ASTM F1642
  • Security against ballistic attack as per ASTM F1233/UL752 and UL 972—Burglary-Resisting Glazing Material Proper security glazing can be achieved using various configurations.

Please refer to the graphic that shows common configurations for security glass and the protection each configuration provides.

 Around-the-clock protection is the best defense

School shootings are unpredictable. The chances of such incidents happening are relatively low, however, schools should be prepared for the unpredictable. Measures to provide around-the-clock protection can be effective at slowing or stopping intruders. Securing the building exterior is critical to defending against forced intrusion and, often, it is the only layer of defense that many schools can implement.

Advanced glazing solutions such as Saflex high performance PVB interlayers are highly effective in slowing or stopping intruders, and that’s a building improvement worth implementing in any new school design or retrofit.>>