Long Overdue Security Guidelines and Standards for Schools Could Soon be Reality

By Matthew de Paula

Persistent social unrest and an uptick in mass shootings are fueling concerns over school safety and security, for which window glazing remains indispensable. It should come as no surprise then that the school security services and equipment market could reach $2.8 billion in 2021, by some estimates.¹ These trends are precipitating a sharper focus on what many see as a glaring need: to create guidelines for window glazing protocols specifically concerning school security. Thanks to recent efforts by a number of groups, those needs are starting to be addressed.

“Unless you’re really in the security market—designing embassies or something along those lines—there’s not a lot of guidance on what level of security you need,” says Vaughn Schauss, manager, technical consultancy Americas for Kuraray Inc. “If you’re just a standard architect or designer and you’re designing a school, where do you get the information as to what level of security is out there and what you need; and what are the test methods?”

Test methodology has been an area of particular contention. That’s because there are various standards across the industry, and within each is the potential for even more variability, depending on whether a tester uses, say, a brick, followed by a ball-peen hammer to test one product, and a crowbar and sledge hammer on another.

Such random variances can sometimes be useful in testing, says Julia Schimmelpenningh, industry technical leader at Eastman Chemical Co. After all, no one knows what type of instrument or weapon an assailant might employ, nor how many times he might swing it against the glass. But the randomness also makes it difficult to compare how one product performs against another, she says.

“We’ve seen in some of our recent tests where the first panel that the assailant was attacking took them a very, very long time to get through. But what we found out is, the tester had learned what weapons to use or what instruments to use, and on the second test that should have gone to the point where the first one went, he just went right to that one weapon and used that exclusively. And so you don’t get a comparison that way,” Schimmelpenningh says.

Consensus Through Consistency

This kind of inconsistency is precisely what has been driving a groundswell of interest in more regimented and standardized tests that are comprehensive enough to cover a range of security levels.

“One of the uphill challenges in the industry is there is no consensus as to what is needed as far as security,” says Schauss, who served as technical liaison for the publication of a technical paper on school security glazing released by the Protective Glazing Council in February. “And that’s what the document is trying to at least help clarify.”

The technical paper defines seven levels of security, from basic to forced entry on up to blast mitigation. It also classifies each level into low, medium and high categories with corresponding testing standards for each.

“All the standards that we’ve referenced are governed by a body such as ASTM International. That way, it’s a widely available standard, it’s been tested, it’s been reviewed,” Schauss says.

With the different levels defined, designers, architects, school boards or any other constituents can zero in on appropriate security glazing for any application, with the highest—and most expensive—levels at entry points, for example, and standard glass elsewhere.

“It would be ideal if we could put ultimate protection through every piece of
window in every school in the country, but the budgets don’t allow for that,” says Schimmelpenningh. Constraints like these are part of the reason the industry is facing such a conundrum regarding standards for school security glazing.

Codes Versus Guidelines

Although chapter 24 of the International Code Council’s (ICC) International Building Code (IBC) is entirely devoted to glass and glazing, it largely addresses safety parameters that are “subject to human impact loads,” says Michael Pfeiffer, senior vice president, technical services at the ICC. “There are no explicit requirements for any type of specialized glazing materials to serve as a barrier to entry into a school facility. Now, that’s not to say that we may not see something going forward.”

Chapter 24 is among the ones for which updates are being considered as part of the IBC’s routine three-year development cycle. Code changes are due by January 2022 and would be applied to the 2024 edition of the IBC, following a process of public input, hearings or the like. But consensus among industry insiders is that schools would be better served through guidelines rather than codified mandates for security glazing.

“A code says you must do this, but guidelines give you the issues, such as all of your visitors come through limited access points,” says Jay Brotman, managing partner at Svigals + Partners, the architectural firm that designed the new Sandy Hook Elementary School, following the mass shooting there in 2012. “So what’s a code going to say? You can only have two [access points], you can only have four?”

He notes that the state of Connecticut developed a set of guidelines² for school security in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, which were based on existing federal guidelines.³

“It gives you the tools to evaluate,” Brotman says. “It doesn’t tell you the right answer—you have to develop that your self, because it’s unique to every situation. A school in the middle of Manhattan has a whole different set of needs than a school in the middle of Kansas.”

To that end, the ICC has tasked its ad hoc Building Safety and Security Committee with scrutinizing school security protocols, including glazing, and plans to issue a report with best practices sometime this year, Pfieffer says. “Again, that’s not in the form of a regulation, that’s in the form of guidance documents, best practices, things of that nature.”

Meanwhile, the American Society of Testing Materials International (ASTM) is also working on documentation for new security standards.

Seeing Beyond the Glass

Sources agree that taking a holistic view is the best approach to creating effective guidelines.

“Security for communities is enhanced by a term called ‘eyes on the street,’” Brotman says. “Especially thinking about urban environments, [where] you close up all the windows and bar all the doors, and the streets are actually less safe than if you have open windows and eyes on the street.”

As an example, Sandy Hook was designed with expansive glass walls that easily expose would-be intruders, aided by the environmental design. “One of our most successful security elements in the building is this rain garden that stretches across the front of the school, which has three bridges that connect to it,” Brotman says.  “Anybody coming to the school is going to have to cross one of those three bridges … So now all we really have to reinforce are the entry points.”

To accomplish that, Sandy Hook applied a force-resistant product from School Guard Glass. “It is more expensive than standard glass, but it’s much less expensive and much more suitable than bullet-resistant glass,” Brotman says.

While that product was designed specifically for schools, solutions from other sectors are making their way into educational structures, too. Hurricane-rated glass performs well for low- and medium-level security needs, says Schauss. “I think we’re probably going to see more of that for just your basic level of security.”

Kuraray has also tested its Trosifol PVB and SentryGlas ionoplast interlayers, which are used for laminated safety glass in the architectural, automotive and photovoltaic industries, with school security standards.

Eastman Chemical has taken a similar approach, adapting composite interlayers from other sectors to school glazing, in both new construction and retrofit applications, Schimmelpenningh says. “You can retrofit with an inside secured panel so that you leave the existing window in place,” she says. “Even if they just put a security film on, it’s going to buy them some precious seconds, and it’s better to do something than nothing at all.”

Opportunities to apply advancements in security glazing achieved through enhanced guidelines and testing standards will continue to multiply. “I think the market in general is starting to see more and more interest in it, not necessarily just for schools, but for religious institutions, storefronts, just everywhere,” Schauss says. “And I think as we move forward, we’ll probably start seeing more and more security levels specified in projects.”

1. https://omdia.tech.informa.com/OM002098/School-security-systems-industry—US-market-overview

2. https://portal.ct.gov/DEMHS/Emergency-Management/Resources-For-Officials/School-Safety-and-Security

3. https://www.schoolsafety.gov/protect-and-mitigate/physical-security

Matthew de Paula is a contributing writer for USGlass magazine.

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