Volume 7, Issue 4, July-August 2003
Fear of Flying
Protecting People First Hosts Life-Saving Symposium
by Kristine Tunney
"We can’t live in a risk-free world, but we can manage the risks that are
out there,” said Darrell Barker of ABS Consulting in a presentation to those assembled at Protecting People First Foundation’s (PPFF) conference, “Defending Our Freedom: A Life-Saving Symposium,” in Oklahoma City, April 24-25, 2003. The symposium gathered together members of the protective glazing community, from architects to film applicators, and provided numerous presentations and roundtable discussions to educate the audience members about the hazards of flying glass and the ways to protect buildings and the people that inhabit them from such danger.
The Protecting People First Foundation spokesperson is Aren Almon-Kok, mother of Baylee Almon, the child shown being carried from the rubble by the fireman in the Pulitzer Prize-winning picture taken following the bombing of the Murrah Federal building in 1995. Fifteen of the 19 children killed in the bombing, including Baylee Almon, were in the Murrah Building’s daycare center at the time of the attack. PPFF is a not-for-profit organization that focuses on increased safety in many areas including childcare centers.
In addition to its dedication to retrofitting childcare centers with installations that will protect children from hazards that may arise in the case of terrorist bombings or natural disasters, the scope of PPFF includes educating business owners and managers about flying glass hazards and the technologies available to prevent them. PPFF is also working to redefine the way designers integrate safety systems into new buildings by informing them about protective glazing technologies and window film capabilities and promoting increased usage of these technologies in building design. Through its educational programs and appearances, the foundation also hopes to alert the public about how to best protect their families and homes from the dangers of flying glass and in turn, to emulate the need to Congress and governmental agencies to promote federal action to safeguard public buildings through protective glazing treatments and retrofit window film applications.
The symposium kicked off with a ceremony honoring the federal government for the change in design of federal buildings to further protect inhabitants from increased terror threats. Inside the shell of the new Oklahoma City Federal Campus, just a short distance from where the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building once stood, Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry commended the group’s dedication toward the improvement of safety standards.
After congressional reports testified that many of the deaths and injuries caused in the Oklahoma City bombing were caused by flying glass, Almon-Kok realized that many lives could have been saved if protective glazing had been in place at the time of the attack.
The window system used in the new federal campus was designed and installed by Masonry Arts of Bessemer, Ala. It sports specially-designed laminated glazing manufactured by Viracon of Owatonna, Minn., a protective interlayer manufactured by St. Louis-based Solutia Inc. and a sealant provided by Dow Corning of Midland, Mich. Following the awards ceremony, attendees had the opportunity to view a safety retrofit of the Rainbow Daycare Center using Llumar Magnum Security window film.
Almon-Kok presented an award to the Rainbow Daycare Center for its willingness to employ safety measures that can protect children from flying glass.
“Someday people won’t even have to think about putting in safety film and the other technologies that are out there,” she said.
For Safety’s Sake
Although safety was the name of the game throughout the symposium, building beautiful, livable buildings that could simultaneously provide security to their inhabitants was also a theme. Everyone seemed to be in agreement that the need for safety didn’t necessitate moving underground and beginning a cavernous existence.
“We’re not going to build a bunker,” said Leonard Murphy, property development director for the General Services Administration (GSA). “We’re going to make buildings that are open, inviting and safe.”
Among the numerous architects in attendance at the symposium was Carol Ross Barney of RBJ Architects, architect of the new Federal Campus Building in Oklahoma City. Barney echoed Murphy’s comments saying, “Nobody wants to live in a box. You have to weigh all the elements to discover what level of protectiveness is appropriate.” Through-out the roundtable discussions, an emphasis on maintaining the correct level of protection appropriate for a particular building stayed on the forefront of attendees’ minds, maintaining the realization that most buildings don’t need such strenuous glazing applications.
“It’s a fine line when you protect a building,” said Barney, “but you don’t want to protect your life experience away.”
FBI counter-terrorism expert Jerry Wheeler made a presentation pointing out that although people often focus on middle-eastern terrorists as potential sources of attacks, the Oklahoma City bombing shows that groups within the United States can be just as frightening. The ability to respond accordingly to an attack from any source and from virtually any level of severity directly correlates to the preparedness for emergencies.
“There are a lot of excellent initiatives being discussed,” said Wheeler. “But everyone’s shooting from the hip. We’re making decisions for all the right reasons, but are defining and explaining our actions after the fact.”
“The farther you get from a tragic event, the more the repercussions fade in people’s minds,” said Dan Shulman, majority counsel for the subcommittee on economic growth, Public Buildings and Emergency Management.
Schulman, along with many others throughout the symposium, remarked on the need for advance planning in adding security or safety features to buildings, an add-on often considered optional until reactive measures are put in place following an attack or natural disaster.
“Members of Congress only pay attention when they know it’s important for them to pay attention. That requires a lot of outreach on your part,” he said.
According to a survey of survivors taken by the Oklahoma State Department of Health, 66 percent of those who responded to its survey following the 1995 attack attributed their injuries from the Oklahoma City bombing to flying glass or falling on broken glass. The study also found that there was widespread glass breakage for more than a mile from the Murrah Building.
Many references were made to a number of other bombings that resulted in large amounts of injuries due to flying glass for both those within and outside of the targeted facility. From the bombing of Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, to the attacks on U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania where more than 5,000 people sustained flying debris-related injuries, it is evident the design of window systems for safety has entered a new era.
While most residential and commercial buildings have a much lower threat level and require much less complex safety systems than federal and state government buildings and courthouses, the need for “proactive” safety measures being added to buildings have already proved beneficial be they window and wall systems or security film that uses a wet glaze or an attachment system.
“Adding something as simple as film can make an large improvement, especially on ground floor sliding doors or sidelites, for increased safety or protection against situations such as smash-and-grab attempts,” said Randy Garcia, product manager for the safety and security films division of CPFilms Inc., based in Martinsville, Va. “There is an significant trend toward increased safety measures and a lot of it started around the time of the Oklahoma City bombing.”
Because safety and security films are a simple way to retrofit an existing structure, the ease of application make them a simple solution for many low-risk structures or buildings looking to add an additional element of protection. As Scott Haddock, president of GlassLock in San Jose, Calif., and president of the Protective Glazing Council, explained, the amount of protection people can expect of out many installations isn’t a “blast-resistant” result.
“When it comes down to retro fit applications, you’ve got the existing glass in a frame and the frame in the wall and what we want to do is mitigate as many of the hazards as possible in a blast event,” he said. “Retrofitting of existing systems is driven by the window system that is currently in place and what it can handle as far as structural wet glazes or attachment systems.”
“A structural wet glaze on a film application isn’t easy to do,” said Haddock. “Some people prefer mechanical attachments, and while both are definitely functional, in the end it comes down to what the customer wants and whether the existing frame system is significant enough to handle either system.”
“Customers need to make up their mind and assess potential risks, or have someone come in and it do it for them. For low-risk buildings, a daylight application does a good job, but for high-risk structures, you’re going to want to keep it in the frame. It’s still definitely better than nothing at all, but flying film and glass can be its own hazard.”
While each presenter at the PPFF’s symposium had his own specialty or area of expertise, all seemed to agree that added elements of safety that mitigate flying glass hazards can benefit everyone that inhabits any type of building from governmental offices to childcare centers. And, while there isn’t a magic formula that can keep everyone safe from everything, all the time, Haddock seemed to combine the reality of the present dangers with optimism for future technologies.
“Everything has its limits,” he said. “While it may not provide all the answers, it definitely does offer some solutions.”
Kristine Tunney is the editor of Window Film magazine.
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