School Safety and Security is Not an Elective

By Ellen Rogers

When it comes to school safety and security, you can’t cut corners. Unfortunately, though, not every school district has the funds to install security level glazing products. Educational facilities may consider some type of protective glazing, but decide against it. Sometimes it’s because they decide on another design option, but not always.

“It’s the cost,” says Kevin Norcross, general manager of Vetrotech Saint-Gobain. “Standards and codes need to be in place [to push the use of these products].”

And that’s the challenge—there aren’t any codes or standards driving the use of these products in designing safe schools. Even beyond that, moving these products into the mainstream will call for change—in design, budget and mindset.

Multi-Functional Performance

While impact-rated products may not be a requirement in K-12 facilities, there’s one form of protective glazing that is: fire-rated. These products are code driven for life safety, making them a security product by nature.

“At their core, fire-rated products are designed to compartmentalize elements of a fi re to reduce its impact on the building and its occupants during an event,” says Tim Nass, vice president of sales for SAFTI FIRST Fire Rated Glazing Solutions. “Typically, we find fire-rated products in prominent roles within a school’s design—exit enclosures, stairwell enclosures, classroom entrances and main corridors. Security features such as forced-entry or bullet-resistance in the education market segment have become an unfortunate by-product of societal developments. Those added performance features are a natural fit to dovetail into fire-rated systems. Over the last five years the demand for security features has increased in order to make schools more secure on multiple levels.”

Combining performance features creates what’s known as multi-functional products—those that combine fire-resistance with other safety and security measures.

“Fire-rated glazing, along with some form of intruder resistance, is being specified more and more,” says Norcross. “Because there is no uniform specification, everyone who makes these products has their own spec that goes along with it. You’re seeing architects, owners, etc. wanting to protect the students and teachers, but they’re relying on manufacturers to provide the information on how to do it.”

Devin Bowman, vice president of sales for Technical Glass Products, agrees.

“There isn’t a standard or code language to dictate where in the building these products should be used. [There’s nothing that defines] the minimum requirement and according to what standard. It comes down to school districts, school boards, etc. that are making decisions based on a sense of urgency and budget dollars. We’re seeing a category of product requirements that’s still at the infancy stage and still needs to be regulated.”

Course Requirements

While fire-rated protection is mandated by code, enhancing and strengthening a school’s safety and security are not; at least not yet. Having such measures to aid in designing and specifying for school security will be essential to moving the use of these products forward. Currently, a working group within ASTM International Committees F12.10 and E54.05 is
developing a new Standard on Mitigation of Armed Aggressors in Educational Institutions, which, according to the scope, is intended to “describe risk and threat analysis, design, specification, selection and application of building plans and systems to minimize the impact of armed aggressors in educational institutions.”

Earlier this year, industry codes consultant Thom Zaremba discussed the process of developing school safety and security codes and standards during the National Glass Association Annual Conference. Zaremba said while the building code bodies are working on these issues, they’re confronting some problems, specifically, addressing whether it’s possible to prescribe how buildings should be built in order to confront an active shooter.

“Every time you try to enhance security it’s more difficult for first responders to get in or occupants to get out,” said Zaremba, who added that the only real standard that currently exists is NFPA 3000, Standard for an Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response Program, which isn’t related to building design, but rather how the building communicates with first responders and others who respond to these situations.

Learning Opportunities

Education and awareness are vital to bringing these products into more schools. As an example, school officials aren’t always aware of the differences in the products available, or that they are designed for varying levels of threats. A school board might consider bullet-resistant glass as its only option, but ultimately decide against it due to cost, when less expensive alternatives are available.

“When we test and list our products for multi-functional applications it is important that the industry and influencers understand the products at their disposal,” says Nass. “As manufacturers we have to stay in front of the game and make owners and specifiers alike aware of what they can spec and include in their designs.”

He continues, “It’s amazing how often products are value-engineered out or eliminated for budget purposes because of lack of knowledge, when there are products that are affordable and can give visibility and fire protection—two very important safety and security measures already—and can be further enhanced to also provide additional protection against forced entry or bullets, for example.”

Greg Galloway, ProTek brand manager with YKK AP America, agrees.

“You can do a lot with the design of the building,” he says. “You can keep windows from being at ground level. By putting the glass high enough on the building you don’t have to use the premium products there.”

While much of the attention surrounding these products is on the glass, it’s just one component. Framing and anchors are equally important to ensuring the system works according to the way it’s designed. The entire assembly is tested to work together, and changing any one element can impact its performance.

“If you have fire-rated glazing and apply a film to it or try to laminate it to glass clad polycarbonate, that may provide forced-entry and security performance, but typically those resins are highly flammable,” says Bowman. “You need to communicate with others involved to make sure you’re not negating the fire-rated glass product’s performance. The system must be tested and approved by an accredited laboratory (such as UL) to address the life safety issues.”

School design and construction calls for a different approach than commercial spaces. The biggest consideration is making sure that the products keep the occupants safe from external threats, and from themselves.

“The potential for accidental impact with fire-rated glazing is significant in a school. Making sure that the children aren’t hurt while in the building is key and a main reason why we saw an effort to move away from wired glass,” says Nass.

As these products become specified more frequently, the need for increased awareness and understanding will continue to be important.

“The philosophy of design has to change, the mindset, the budgeting … and there’s got to be schools willing to spend the money,” says Norcross.

He also stresses the importance of having a code or standard.

“We’re an industry that has had the resources around a long time and we still haven’t come up with a uniform standard that has minimal protection for our kids,” says Norcross. “We need to be more active in this and not so self-driven. We need to make sure safe school design is a normal part of protection, so we can answer the question, ‘What are you doing to protect my child?’”

Designing for Forced Entry

Four to six minutes—that’s how long it takes on average for first responders to arrive at a scene. And, especially with schools, every second matters. That’s why the focus of school safety is on forced-entry protection rather than bullet-resistance. But the term “forced entry” is one many school boards might not understand.

“The reality is, you have those who see this—forced-entry protection—as relatively new and they have no real knowledge of this category of glass products that offer this additional protection,” says Devin Bowman, vice president of sales at Technical Glass Products. “Which leads them to look at other [more expensive] products, such as bullet-resistance.”

The intent of forced-entry products is to keep the glass in place, lengthening the time it takes an intruder to enter the building or spaces within the building, giving first responders ample time to arrive.

“Bullet-resistant glass will do that, but so do other less expensive products,” says Bowman. “Forced-entry products can be much less expensive than bullet resistance and many people don’t know that.”

Experts agree that schools must use the products that make sense for their own needs. Likewise, suppliers must understand that those needs will vary.

Kevin Norcross, general manager of Vetrotech Saint-Gobain, says it’s important to look at the application, and to ensure the right product is being used given whatever the threat may be. For example, his company has a product that provides intruder-resistance as well as fire protection.

“But that may or may not be the answer depending on the level of threat against which you’re designing,” he says.

Bowman adds, “As a manufacturer we recognize the challenges for schools and budgets. So, how do we provide affordable solutions that will still meet those requirements?”

Tim Nass, vice president of sales for SAFTI FIRST Fire Rated Glazing Solutions, says many school districts are already on tight budgets, and constantly working to balance aesthetics, code requirements and other performance features.

“However, like anything else, understanding what is required by code and what is available is always important during the design phase,” he says. “Schools are a place where parents send their children to learn and grow. As parents, we make assumptions that children are going to be safe at school. These products can help do just that on several levels.”

Ellen Rogers is the editor of USGlass magazine. Follow her on Twitter @USGlass and like USGlass on Facebook to receive updates.

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