Are Bullet and Blast Resistance Anarchy’s Antidote?

By Chris Collier & Luly Hernandez

Fire bombs, mortars, and rocks—Portland, Ore.’s, 2020 portrait was nightmarish. That June, the Portland Business Alliance said local merchants reported an economic loss of $23.2 million—business owners reported $4.8 million in costs due to damages from looting, fires, and graffiti. On September 5, Portland police declared riot on the 100th straight night of protests sparked by George Floyd’s death just 103 days prior. Are bullet- and blast-resistant products helping push back against such attacks?

Shock Wave

“Retailers already face an uphill battle regarding loss prevention,” says Mark Mineer, president of Impact Security in Marietta, Ga. “With most burglaries remaining unsolved, the onus falls on the business owner or senior administrative personnel to ensure the protection of their premises, employees, customers, and inventory. For retail environments, security solutions need to satisfy several requirements: they need to be cost-efficient, unobtrusive so as not to dissuade or discourage customer engagement, and provide an effective performance each time it is put to the test.”

Mineer says that traditional storefront and curtainwall glazing systems are designed to meet specific building code requirements and aesthetics, but “typically offer little to no value when it comes to discouraging incidents of crime and vandalism.”

“Our retrofit security glazing systems, which utilize heavy-gauge, architectural-grade polycarbonate and patented vented extruded framing systems are designed to resist forced entry and ballistic attacks,” Mineer adds. “Commonly referred to as ‘overglaze systems,’ these systems protect against vandalism and other forms of destruction—without modifying the physical appearance of storefronts, glass doors, and windows, giving
business owners the aesthetic benefits of glass with none of the hazards or security concerns typically associated with glass breakage.”

The 9/11 Effect

The use of blast-resistant products gained prevalence after the September 11 attacks, and many government buildings began requiring those products, says Gerry Sagerman, sales development with Insulgard Security Products in Brighton, Mich.

“We saw bullet-resistance on the typical government buildings, courtrooms, police stations; this was when I started 10 or 15 years ago,” he says. “But then we saw it getting a bit more mainstream into [places] where cash is required, like banks and check-cashing stores and convenience stores.”

Sagerman says that these products are becoming more commonplace.

“I’d say over the last few years, it’s gotten even more mainstream—we’re seeing bullet-resistant requirements, whether it be windows or doors … in schools, clinics, emergency rooms and hospitals. Even everyday businesses, customer service desks or reception areas where they’re looking to just kind of give a little bit more security,” he adds.

Brad Campbell, CEO of Huntington Beach, Calif.-based Riot Glass, agrees with Sagerman, that non-government buildings and everyday businesses have also been in the market for increasing threat-level protection.

“There is a whole subsection of the population now that’s concerned and has problems with ballistic threats they’ve never had before. So the increase in crime has skyrocketed, and what used to be considered safe buildings are now experiencing problems with projectiles, people throwing rocks or shooting anything from BBs all the way up to high-power rifle rounds,” Campbell says.

Multi-Functional

Diana San Diego, vice president of marketing at SAFTI FIRST located in Brisbane, Calif., also sees the industry and manufacturers working to find a balance between protective products and not compromising aesthetics.

“From the manufacturers’ perspective, we’ve been introducing these products to the marketplace as a solution [to achieve a given aesthetic] while not feeling like they’re in a jail. So when there’s no armed aggressor or shooter… it just looks like normal glass. It provides vision, transparency and daylight. But, in that unfortunate incident where there is an armed aggressor, it’ll be able to help save lives.”

Sagerman says there hasn’t been a lot of recent evolution or major changes in products.

“There hasn’t been a ton of change in bullet-resistant glass products … I think that [there has been more awareness] of the different performance properties of the products. It used to be that if someone was looking for a bullet-resistant window or a storefront in a building … as long as the bullet resisted, that was the most important thing. But now, with all of the thermal and insulating requirements on buildings, [bullet-resistant glass] can be insulated, and it can have different low-E coatings on the product,” Sagerman says.

Campbell says the demand for retrofitting is increasing.

Sometimes, it’s a matter of accommodating a given budget while still attaining a certain level of ballistic protection over the majority of the structure—but not all of it. “You still have these vulnerable moments … we’re creating a bullet-resistant vest [for the building],” Campbell explains.

The industry has hit a significant point for security products, Sagerman says. These glazing products can now provide requirements important for everyday life—with qualities that contribute to adequate thermal performance and comfortable views while still being a line of defense.

Distinct Defense

Bullet and blast resistance offer varying forms of protection, but how do they differ exactly? Mark Mineer, president of Impact Security, sets the record straight.

“Bullet-resistance is measured by how much protection an item will provide based on a variety of factors, the caliber of firearm, ammunition type, number of shots fired and from what distance. Different materials provide varying levels of protection. The thickness of each material is also a factor in the level of protection. That’s where third party certified testing companies such as Underwriters Laboratory (UL), play an important role in defining different levels of protection by creating a standardized form of measurement to test products.”

Blast-resistance is a product’s ability to withstand an explosive blast from chemical explosions and bomb blasts. The amount of resistance depends on the material, how big the explosion, distance and how long the duration of the blast is. These types of explosions can turn unprotected glass into dangerous flying shards. Varying blast pressure can carry broken glass in excess of 100 feet per second (68 MPH).”

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