Beyond ABCs and 123s
Can Window Film Keep School Safe?
by Casey Neeley
“Every school would want to prevent what occurred at Sandy Hook from happening but I don’t know that it’s possible. Can you slow it down? Certainly; but I’m not sure you could stop it,” says Scott Haddock, vice president of the Protective Glazing Council and president/CEO of Easton, Md.-based Glasslock.
Today, school systems across the country are grappling with the question, “how can we keep our children safe?” Their answers have a wide range; from armed guards to arming teachers to limiting or even removing glass all together. Educated decisions will be critical and, as many experts agree, there is no guarantee any one solution will stop an intruder from breaking into a school. Be it laminated glass or safety/security films, solutions are available that can assist in strengthening the exterior of the building. Professionals collectively agree that window film products can offer benefits.
“The application of anti-intrusion security film can act as an effective deterrent against forced entry break-ins and buy some valuable time for staff to alert authorities and teachers of impending action,” says Walt Goode, director of commercial and specialty films for Aegis Films located in Ashland, Va.
“Security window films have a myriad of benefits. They protect inhabitants from flying glass shards in the event of glass breakage due to natural or manmade disaster and slow down the ability of an intruder to breach glazing systems. They buy valuable time for alerting authorities and teachers of hostile actions taking place,” Goode continues. “It can also combine vision control and energy saving benefits depending on the film chosen.
“It can help to save lives, reduce injuries due to broken glass shards and impede visibility from the exterior of coated windows and reduce energy consumption due to less solar heat entering the building(s) that needs to be cooled,” he adds.
A perceived sense of safety is another benefit experts agree films may offer.
“The films should be placed on all openings that have glass to bolster the strength of that glass against forced entry,” says Goode. “They could also combine a dark reflective film at the office entry area’s glazing to greatly reduce vision into the offices from the exterior; the same goes for exterior-facing windows in any classrooms. This also gives energy reduction features as well that will, in time, pay for the film installation via energy savings due to lower running times for air-conditioning units.”
Zafer Yousef, owner of Tint Pros in Parma, Ohio, says he has noticed a request for privacy films in addition to films with safety features.
“One gentleman from a local school called me and told me they wanted to tint the school for safety reasons,” says Yousef. “He said the school didn’t want potential intruders to see the students but they wanted the students to know and be able to see someone outside of the building. That made me realize consumers are linking privacy with safety … They weren’t actually asking for security film, they wanted privacy film. Because outsiders can’t see the students, they feel safer.
“The man from the local school said the school shootings were the motivation behind having these films installed,” says Yousef. “He told me they were going to teach the students that if they see anyone trying to peer into the windows they need to alert someone to take action. He made it sound like it was a must.”
Despite the numerous benefits, experts are quick to note that security films can’t stop a speeding bullet or a determined intruder.
Where is the “Proof”?
As the desire to make schools “bulletproof” abounds, some experts caution the expectation of full ballistic protection.
“The inquiries have increased but most inquiries have centered on wanting to make glazing systems ‘bulletproof’ which is a claim security window film cannot claim and never should espouse,” according to Goode.
“Extreme caution should be taken to make sure that any claims about performance due to the addition of a film layer clearly state the specifics of the glazing itself as supplied by the glazing manufacturer, the specifics of the film itself as supplied by the film manufacturer and all relevant specifics of the ballistics used and the conditions of the test,” notes Darrell Smith, executive director of the International Window Film Association (IWFA) based in Martinsville, Va. “Any attempt to imply performance due to the application of the film under any other conditions (different manufacturer, different glazing, different ballistics, different conditions), we believe, would be irresponsible as the margin for error could be one of life safety.”
“I would caution schools that an installation of security window film can act as a deterrent and slow down potential attackers, but it never should be considered as a foolproof system that will protect them against any type of forced entry attack,” Goode adds. “It will, at best, buy them some critical time to alert authorities and all teachers to help secure all classrooms against entry from intruders.”
According to Smith, declaring films as bullet-resistant is too steep of a claim.
“The IWFA has the utmost concern about any written specification or recommendation that would call for the use of any type of window film, such as a safety or security film, as a primary component of a ‘bullet-resistant glazing,’” he says. “Safety/security films are being used in conjunction with various designed and tested bullet-resistance glazings, but primarily as a ‘spall shield’ to reduce the ‘spalling’ off of small fragments of the glazings on the interior side in the event of being penetrated by ballistics.
“Our industry believes there are adequate and acceptable standards and methods for testing of products as protection against ballistics,” Smith continues. “Since window films are an addition to glazing, and not intended for use as the glazing itself, we firmly believe that an individual glazing should be tested both with and without film installed on it for any comparison of improvement in total performance.”
Smith notes that, in some instances, film adds little protection against bullets.
“In some cases we have seen demonstrations or claims that the use of film imparted some bullet-resistant value when, in fact, the glazing itself without film had almost those same bullet-resistant qualities,” says Smith. (For more information on the use of “bulletproof” see the box below.)
An Education on Film
Many experts blame these mischaracterizations on a lack of product education.
“Most people are neophytes; they really don’t know anything about protective glazing nor what is available for retrofit. It keeps coming back to education,” says Haddock.
“I think there is some misinformation in the market and it’s important to give people the right information so they aren’t overestimating the product,” Keith Ribalta, owner of Tampa, Fla.-based Precision Safety Films says.
Educating school districts is a major step in increasing the impact these films can have.
Goode says, “If school officials are considering an application of security window film they should understand fully the capabilities of the security film and that it cannot guarantee the safety of all personnel and students against invasion by armed or unarmed intruders.”
Explaining the fact that no film product can be “bulletproof” is one factor Haddock says is important.
“I would take the person through an education process and tell them there are levels of ballistic products and first, there is no ‘proof.’ There are levels of bullet-resistance but they are going to depend on … what they are looking to achieve as far as risk reduction. A couple of the districts I spoke with did research on their own. They potentially can go down the wrong path of what products are ballistic-resistant and what offers them the right protection,” says Haddock.
The potential for intrusion deterrence, Haddock says, is a benefit dealers should clarify.
“Typically, putting film on existing glazing does not offer ballistic-resistance in my opinion … If you’re looking for intrusion protection, which is not necessarily rated for forced entry but as a deterrent, laminated glass and security film installed on existing windows [could help]. Laminated glass has a higher life cycle and security film is quickly deployed; if installed properly with some sort of anchorage, it certainly offers a level of deterrence or safety. Is it going to keep anyone out? No; if they’re determined to get in, they’ll get in,” says Haddock. “A lot of that depends on the layout and make-up as well as the existing conditions. As far as security film; it’s difficult to measure the level of deterrence … [There are too many variables that keep you from] actually giving some idea of the amount of time various protective glazing options can [act as a deterrent].”
Members of the window film and glazing industries can help with school safety by knowing both the problems and solutions that can help boost the amount of security an installation can provide, says Glenn Yocca, president of Pittsburgh-based U.S. Film Crew.
Assessing the Situation
“We’re dealing with a lot of different schools in light of the tragedy at Sandy Hook; they’re all looking at it from a security standpoint so we’re looking at vulnerable areas and helping to secure those areas,” he says.
In light of recent school tragedies, both film and glazing professionals wonder if they can do anything to prevent similar events from happening in the future. According to the experts, little can be done to enhance the actual safety film attachments provide, but the amount of safety that can be added by educating consumers about these films is immense.
While industry members agree safety films offer a variety of positive attributes, they are quick to note that education about these films and their true benefits plays a major role in meeting realistic security expectations. Knowledge of the product, as well as how to install it properly and explain its characteristics to school officials, is paramount.
Looking out for additional problems is one important step Yocca says installers should heed.
“When you’re providing one solution you want to make sure you’re not creating a hazard for another potential threat such as a fire,” he says. “When installing [for] anti-intrusion you need to make sure that you still allow for quick and proper egress.”
Noting the specific state of each building and its individual needs can help provide for a more appropriate, safety-enhancing installation.
“Everything that I’ve dealt with in schools shows you need to provide an attachment system with the security film installation,” says Yocca. “If the glass breaks you want it to remain in place.
“If schools are looking to install anti-intrusion films, they need to identify the vulnerable areas and make sure the proper thickness of security film and the proper attachment systems are recommended. Make sure you’re not creating a hazard.”
Dealers also need to make sure they explain the true benefits of the films properly without overstating their gains.
“The advantages film offers are a sense of confidence and comfort for parents knowing that they have been proactive to address these types of issues,” says Yocca. “Schools can also gain solar protection; they can get secondary benefits while addressing the primary concern.”
“Essentially, there are advantages to both the safety and security features of protective glazing as a whole, whether you apply films or retrofit with laminated glass,” says Haddock. “What’s important is educating those in the schools to make sure they have the right products for the particular application. I have been contacted in the D.C. area by a couple of school districts looking to see what they can do to upgrade their security. What I’ve found is that a lot of time needs to be spent educating people on what these films and glazing can do.
“Dealers need to know the applications. What’s the threat level? Is it to protect against someone attacking the window or are they trying to keep people out? Dealers need to be up to speed on the varying applications,” continues Haddock. “If a school that’s deemed a higher threat is looking at having some sort of ballistic glazing option, dealers need to make sure they don’t oversell the product. You’re selling safety and security measures, but to what degree? For film, the biggest concern is that the product can be oversold.”
Is “Bulletproof”a Dirty Word?
“The word ‘proof’ isn’t something I use,” Keith Ribalta, owner of Precision Safety Films in Tampa, Fla.
Glazing and window film professionals agree that the level of bullet- and intrusion-resistance a material can have varies based on a number of factors, including structure stability and intruder determination.
“I always tell people when it comes to security there is a high-level of protection from these films but I always make the point to tell them it isn’t an impenetrable system,” he adds. “You can slow someone down significantly and help with the response time for police but it’s not going to keep out someone who wants to get in.”
When looking for safety and security films, here is a list of terms consumers and school districts should look for according to Solar Gard, a manufacturer of window films:
Safety Glazing: These standards test the break safe characteristics of glass specifically for human impact. ANSI Z 97.1 CPSC CFR 1201, AS 2208 and EN 12600.
Bomb Blast: These standards are to test the performance of glazing when subjected to various blast pressures. Standards that apply include GSA TS01-2003, ASTM 1642-96 and ISO 16933.
Fire: These standards are to test the performance of building materials when exposed to fire and heat. Standards that apply include ASTM E 84, ASTM D 1929 and CSTB M1.
Natural Disaster: These test standards determine the performance of doors, windows and impact-protective systems impacted by various-sized missiles and subsequent cycle pressure. Standards that apply include ASTM 1886/1996.
Intrusion/Burglary Resistance: Burglary resistance standards evaluate a product’s ability to resist forced entry. Standards that apply include EN 356.
What About the Teachers?
While many teachers have yet to learn about all of the benefits safety and security films may offer, USGlass magazine interviewed several teachers who say the addition of any safety-enhancing product boosts their perception of overall classroom safety.
Ashley Pennington, a public school kindergarten teacher says, “Anything that can keep the students safe and decrease the ability of someone breaking into the school would of course make everyone feel safer.”
“We are in an extremely old building, and, being in an older building, any upgrade could help,” says Amanda Gibson, a private school kindergarten teacher. “The classrooms on the lower levels of the building would feel safer.”
“I definitely think this improvement would add to the sense of security for the teachers in the school,” adds first-grade public school teacher, Sarah Elliot.
One School’s Mission
As schools scramble to reevaluate their safety plans and heighten their security measures, many are turning to glazing, and window film attachments specifically, to find a cost-effective method for strengthening their defenses.
Rebecca Schmidt, principal of Immanuel Lutheran School in St. Charles, Mo., sat down with USGlass magazine to discuss why her school chose to add anti-intrusion films to the building.
USG: Principal Schmidt, please explain why Immanuel school officials decided to install safety and security films.
RS: Providing a safe environment for children is a high priority at Immanuel. Our school is housed in an older building with glass windows in all classrooms and entryways. We continually work to improve the safety measures in our school with security cameras, controlled entry and intruder locks on classroom doors. After the Sandy Hook tragedy, we looked at our security plan again. The question families raised was, “What about the glass?” Their fear was that controlled entry was a non-issue with easy access through the glass windows. We want to do our best to provide the safest environment for our children.
USG: What type of films did the school choose to have installed?
RS: We installed 3M safety and security window film (Ultra S600) on all glass doors, entry side panels and first-floor windows.
USG: What do you anticipate these films will do?
RS: We understand the film is not bulletproof, but that it will slow down an intruder attempting to physically enter the building through the glass areas. The film is a patented technology using micro-layers of 6-mil film that has enormous strength and tear-resistance. We feel that if we can deter an intruder from entering the building long enough for first responders to arrive, we have added a necessary layer of security for our students and school community.
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