The glass doors at the Covenant School in Nashville didn’t stand a chance. Rounds fired from close range by the 28-year-old shooter made easy work of two sets of double glass entrance doors. The attack on Monday, March 27, 2023, killed six people, including three children.
The tale is as old as time. An attacker easily accesses yet another school. Publicly available security video from the school shows the shooter firing several rounds from an assault weapon at the glass doors. The glass shattered after a couple of rounds.
That’s because it appears the glass entrance doors were not bullet-resistant or fortified. While bullet-resistant glazing will not stop a determined attacker, it will hold the glazing in place for a brief period, adding time for those inside to find shelter and help to arrive.
“Based on the video I saw, I would say it was tempered glass,” says Mark Jacobson, a market manager at Kuraray America Inc. “If they had the appropriate laminated glass in the doors and forced-entry resistant door systems, it most likely would have prevented the tragedy.”
Brink Fidler, president of Defend System, a life safety and security consulting firm based in Tennessee, told Reuters the school intended to add a protective laminate layer to the glass doors, but they had yet to be installed.
Granted, bullet-resistant glazing products are not the only element of school safety. Jay Brotman is a managing partner at Svigals + Partners, the New Haven, Conn.-based architectural firm that designed the new Sandy Hook Elementary School. He told USGNN™ that exterior design elements could include elevation to limit line of sight, controlled chokepoints, and obstacles intended to keep visitors at a distance, among other security features.
The situation in Nashville could have been different if the building’s structure had included additional protection. Fidler told outlets the teachers at Covenant followed his company’s advice after it led mass shooter training at the school in early 2022. The training included covering windows, turning out lights, evacuating, locking down and hiding. Despite the procedures, six people were still killed.
In most cases, the damage is already done when the attacker breaches the perimeter. Procedures are important, but school design needs to be such that an attacker has to be held up outside the building. This allows school officials and law enforcement to respond appropriately.
According to a 2014 FBI report, police response times to active shooter events from 2000 to 2012 averaged three minutes around the country. Bullet-resistant doors would have deterred the Nashville shooter by maybe six or seven minutes, says Mac Hardy, director of operations at the National Association of School Resource Officers. This is enough time for law enforcement officers to respond before a shooter enters a school.
The glass industry is doing its best to respond to increased school shootings.
A new ASTM International document, Standard Test Method for Forced-Entry-Resistance of Fenestration Systems After Simulated Active Shooter Attack, seeks to help school districts choose from a range of high-performance products that will add additional protection to schools.
The testing procedure allows manufacturers to evaluate and grade their windows, doors, modular panels and glazings. This guarantees that all products manufactured comply with the criteria for protection against forced entry following an active shooter attack.
“This new standard is an excellent test for the industry to demonstrate forced-entry resistance for these situations,” says Jacobson.