Winter  2003

Safe and Secure
Understanding the Components of Safety and Security Glazing

by Craig Washing

As architects are faced with different security concerns from different owners, the first thought often is that they will be faced with a design that forces “bunker mentality.” Architects will naturally assume their design flexibility will be limited and freedom of form and function will be in conflict. How can you ever mix security and design freedom? Fortunately, the demand for greater security in building products and design has pushed security companies that supply such products to develop solutions that meet both security and design requirements. 

What’s Available?
For years, the primary frame material to protect against bullets and blast was steel. That has all changed. Steel still offers the maximum of security protection in all categories. Bullet-, blast- and attack-protection can be solved with any variety of steel products. An alternative to steel panels in non-frame requirements is security fiberglass. A fiberglass product allows easier field installation, greater flexibility and can be installed to meet all lower-level security requirements. Its greater flexibility comes in the ability to fabricate in the field. While steel is still available to protect against such threats, architecturally friendly aluminum has joined the security product package to allow additional flexibility in doors and windows. As architects develop specifications, they now can meet GSA or UL design requirements with products that are also offered in a variety of anodized or painted finishes, as thermally broken and [with the ability to meet] various threat levels. This match in appearance can range from level 1 to level 8 in ballistic protection and cover blast requirements from four to ten psi. Consequently, several requirements ranging in bullet, blast and attack differences can, with the right system, all look the same, regardless of the required threat levels.

Another major variable in specifying the proper protection goes beyond the frame and to the glazing required. Glazings vary with costs, appearance, performance and weight, all of which are design considerations, and there are products available to meet each specific requirement. The major categories that are available for different security needs are:

A Team Effort
Most of these products won’t satisfy bullet or attack requirements, but qualified blast consultants can advise the minimum lay-ups for blast resistance only. To summarize, while polycarbonates raise the prices, they lower the weights and neutralize the color. All-glass laminates lower the costs, but increase weights and intensify the green hue.
How an architect decides on the best product for a project requires the assistance of the glass company or a security company that puts the whole package together. All options available should be presented so the designer can make decisions based on the best combination of the various options available.

Opaque Armors
Type                                      Advantages                           Disadvantages 
Aluminum                             •Lightweight                     •Poor attack resistance
                                            •Low maintenance            •Difficult to field modify
                                            •Expandability of              •Frames must be thicker                                               threat levels                      to meet various threat levels
                                            •Appearance resembles    •Softer material—generally
                                              non-security products       poorer performer against 
Fiberglass                             •Ability to modify              •Less cost effective for                                               size in field                         higher threat ballistic and                                                                                        attack requirements
Steel                                     •Excellent ballistic             •Weight
                                              and attack resistance       •Difficult to modify

As the design starts to narrow down to specific types of framing and glazing, the time has come to tie it all together as a security package. Don’t think of security as a basket full of different products and solutions, but as a well-designed security package that includes all of these elements. 

Architects have a great variety of options, but they must find firms that offer and explain all that is available. At this point, it is important to work with either a consultant or product supplier who fully understands the total package. How does this glass work with the frame? How does the frame work with the wall? Can the aesthetic needs be met? Can the bullet-, blast- and attack-resistant requirements be met? Where does it fit in my budget? What compromises can we make without compromising security and aesthetic freedom? Find a security partner and all of these concerns can and will be answered. My advice is to involve your partner as early as you can in the process so you can narrow down all available options and zero in on the actual preferred products to meet your objectives. Security products in your building should not be a mystery, but a satisfactory solution.

In conclusion, those of us in the security industry never use the word “proof” when we discuss security options. All solutions are bullet-, blast- and attack-resistant, for there can always be a bigger bullet, blast or attack. The owner, the architect and the security consultants need to establish the concerned threat. Once that is agreed upon, there are a variety of products available to meet those threats without destroying the desired aesthetics. Don’t be afraid of security—use it to your advantage and continue to make this world a safer place.

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