Volume 42, Issue 2 - February 2007
How 9/11 Continues to Impact the Glass Industry
By Megan Headley
The impact of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, on the United States has been profound, and continues to be felt in new ways even more than five years later. However, it certainly has not slowed the use of glass in high-rise or high-profile buildings. Instead, the industry has adapted to encompass new demands—demands for new products as well as new demands on the jobsite.
John Sturdevant, AIA, vice president of architecture for Heitmann & Associates, a glazing contractor consultant based in St. Louis, points to the current boom in nonresidential construction, and the emphasis on high-rise buildings, as an indicator that 9/11 has not negatively impacted the growth of the construction industry.
“9/11 put a lot of people on hold,” says Sturdevant. However, he continues, that “hold” has ended. “Coupled with 9/11 and the economy, things have really broken loose in the last couple of years.”
“After 9/11 obviously everything was down quite a bit, then two years ago there was a huge demand,” adds Roberto Bicchiarelli, executive vice president of Permasteelisa Cladding Technologies of Windsor, Conn.
The events of 9/11 have, however, affected the types of glass products being used—in certain locations.
“There have certainly been increases in the amount of products being tested, and the types of products being tested,” says Ron McCann, security specialist with Viracon of Owatonna, Minn. “We were doing minimal testing [before 9/11].”
It has also impacted the way glazing contractors operate on the jobsite.
“It’s an ongoing learning experience,” says Micki Weaver, co-owner of Weavers Glass in Harrisburg, Pa..
Protective Glazing Growth
The glass industry has seen an increase in the use of protective glazing since 9/11, most noticeably on potential targets such as federal courthouses, embassies and other government-owned buildings.
“We’re seeing an increase,” says Tom Nesbitt, president of United Glass and Panel Systems Inc. of Canton, Ohio. “More on the federal-type work, the airport-type work.”
“Mostly we’ve seen it in the federal buildings we’ve looked at, and some of the government buildings, not so much in the [private sector] buildings,” says Jim Stathopoulos of Ajay Glass Co. in Rochester, N.Y.
High-profile federal buildings have been quick to adopt products such as blast-resistant glazing systems in their facilities.
“We’re seeing it in government work and also in the areas of convenience stores … in the private sector,” says Weaver.
“We’re even seeing banks with more security glass. But the blast-resistant demand is the public work.”
Nesbitt adds that he doesn’t expect to see much demand for protective glazing in the private sector in his area of northeastern Ohio.
“In our market, [demand] is going to stay federal,” says Nesbitt.
“There definitely seems to be a heightened sense of interest in the protective glazing products,” agrees Andy Gum, president of Thomas Glass of Columbus, Ohio. However, Gum adds that the increase may be as much a result of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 rather than the September 11 terrorist attacks. And that increase, again, has been predominantly for government buildings. Still, that indicates the time it takes to see the full effect of events such as these, since the industry is still growing in its awareness of the availability of protective glazing systems.
Private Sector Protection
While government-owned buildings have a clear need for protection from threats, clients in the private sector are showing signs of interest in protective glazing as well.
Bicchiarelli says Permasteelisa works primarily on office buildings, and that’s an area where he has seen a definite increase: “40 percent more requests for blast-resistance than before [9/11],” he says.
He adds that private corporations, such as banks, have been specifically requesting blast-resistant products.
Sturdevant says that the industry is seeing a gradual increase in the number of privately-owned companies that are investigating protective glazing for use in their buildings.
“We’re seeing at least discussions on it, sometimes they proceed on it, sometimes they don’t,” says Sturdevant. “Companies that have sensitive software, computer arrangements, seem to be interested in it … They can’t afford to be without their computer systems.”
Gum, whose company manufactures an automatic door product, says that secure access is an area where he sees more growth, as compared to laminated glass and other protective glazing products.
“That’s an area where we really see continued growth,” says Gum. “We definitely have seen a bump in those, in private and public sectors.”
He says that people are more worried about tracking who is coming into their buildings than fearing outside attacks.
Sturdevant adds that he see the growing awareness from the private sector of protective glazing systems coming as much from fear of storms as from attacks.
Location also clearly plays a big part in the need for these products—not only geographical location, but a building’s location as compared to higher profile neighbors.
McCann says in the past people in the private sector didn’t typically focus on requirements such as protective glazing because the possibility of needing protection from attacks “never crossed their mind.” Now, he says, people have become “more cognizant of their surroundings, and their surroundings’ potential targets.”
By example, he mentioned that Viracon had recently supplied glass for Radio Shack’s corporate headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas. The facility is located nearby a federal courthouse.
“As we were talking about 9/11 and events, a light bulb went off. We said ‘maybe we should protect our lower levels,’” recalls McCann. Knowing the nearby federal building would have protective glazing, due to the possibility of outside threats, it became a real concern that an attack might have a residual impact upon the buildings in its immediate vicinity.
“I think overall it raised everyone’s awareness level,” says McCann.
Weaver agrees. Most of her company’s protective glazing work is on the military installations in her region of Pennsylvania. However, she notes that even within those installations there have been requests for protective glazing in buildings that might not have required such focused protection prior to the 9/11 attacks.
“Shortly after 9/11 we had a … childcare building at one of the military facilities in the area … all of a sudden it was ‘we better put some type of protective glazing in here,’” she says.
The childcare facility sat near an airport runway, another trigger that led to the request for added protection.
As one might expect, the area of the country in which the company installs most of its products can determine whether or not there’s a demand for protection from the private sector.
“It’s been more the metropolitan areas, typically, where there’s a fair concentration of government facilities or contractors—or large tourist areas, Las Vegas for example,” McCann says.
Glazing contractors are beginning to see awareness from architects on the availability of protective products.
“Actually we’re finding out that the architects are getting more educated on that issue,” says Nesbitt.
Bicchiarelli explains that his clients generally have worked with a consultant who has studied the possible threats to the building, and the potential effects of the threat on the building’s façade.
“I think their [clients’] awareness is growing; they’re not quite sure what products fit their specific application,” says McCann. He adds, “As the threat level increases their knowledge decreases, [because] the products become more sophisticated.”
Weaver says that clients may not be familiar with the protective glazing products that exist in the marketplace, but generally come in with an idea of the type of protection they’re looking for, and seek guidance from the architect and contract glazier.
“They come in and say ‘we want bulletproof glass,’” says Weaver.
She says it’s her job to ask what threat concerns them, what level of protection they need and further details to guide customers through the selection process.
McCann adds that growing awareness and customer education about the types of protection available are part of the job for protective glazing manufacturers. He notes that manufacturers of PVB interlayers are also pushing product awareness in the marketplace.
Nesbitt says that, while awareness of protective glazing options may be growing among architects and building owners, it still has a way to go.
“Maybe eventually over the next ten years we may see this moving into the private sector, but I think it’s going to take [longer] to educate those people,” says Nesbitt. He predicts that the use of protective glazing systems may, in fact, become a part of designing school buildings in the next three to five years.
In addition to the impact 9/11 continues to have on the industry, individual companies have noticed how the results of that day have changed their operations.
“There are a lot of requirements of our people,” says Nesbitt. “The bonding requirements of the people, the enforced drug-type policies, the badging process that we go through is quite involved—we’re being expensed for the cost of the badges—there’s training before we go on the jobsite, etc.”
He elaborates by saying that when working on federal buildings, the glaziers are given training about safety issues such as evacuation of the site and how to enter the site in the morning and leave it in the evening, as well as information on what areas are accessible to the glaziers.
“An inconvenience that tends to become more common, we’re seeing more background checks, both private and public,” says Gum. “They want to know who our guys [on the job] are going to be, they’re running background checks and criminal checks.”
Of his federal clients, he adds, “They’re a little more selective on who they’re letting into their buildings.”
“It takes us more time to get on these facilities that demand these blast-resistant and security types of glazing,” says Weaver. “Now you go prepared [to wait].”
In addition to training from customers, Nesbitt says that training his employees on protective glazing has become more important than it was before 9/11.
“Where we’ve seen the biggest impact on the company has been educating our people … on the different products, the different criteria … the difference between a General Services Administration (GSA) specification or a Department of Defense (DOD) specification,” says Nesbitt. “We’re seeing more performance-type specifications, where they’ll list the generic type spec, like GSA or DOD. It’s important that our people know the criteria for each of those.”
Stathopoulos adds of his federal customers, “We’ve noticed they’ve tightened up the curtainwall specifications.”
Nesbitt notes another effect he’s seen: “An increase in insurance requirements,” he says. “We’re seeing a lot of heavy insurance requirements on the project, very inflated.”
He says that he’s noticed when installing glass on an airport, outside suppliers bringing in freight have had high insurance requirements. He adds that those trucks bringing in that freight only have a limited amount of time on which they can come onto the jobsite, because of security issues.
While not everyone may have had to adapt their operations to changes such as these, it’s undeniable that the results of 9/11 continue to be felt throughout the industry.
Megan Headley is an assistant editor of USGlass.