Volume 34, Number 7, July 1999


Blasts at Marine Base IGNITES Controversy

by Leslie Shaver

With the continuing threat of terrorist activities at government facilities around the world, government officials are seeking ways to mitigate the effects of terrorism by making buildings safer. One aspect of the building structure that officials have concentrated on is glazing, as flying glass has been proven to kill or maim people during bomb blasts. The move toward making buildings and their occupants safer through glazing methods has created a large and competitive market for security glazing.

This competitive market was evident during the recent Force Protection Equipment Demonstration (FPED) at the Marine Base in Quantico, VA. A number of companies demonstrated the capabilities of their security glazing and attachment products in the face of 25 and 50 pound blasts of TNT. While most of the products seemed to meet or exceed the strains placed on them by the explosives, exhibitors used a variety of methods to display their products. Looking at the security film and attachment exhibitors specifically, an observer could find any number of display methods from enclosed building-like structures with windows, to windows displayed out in the open or on sled-like structures.

While all of these demonstration methods were within the specifications of what was allowed by FPED management, some exhibitors thought their competitors set up demonstrations that would not be practical in "real life" settings.

"The General Services Administration (GSA) set up specifications on what you need to survive certain blasts," said Carol Borow of CHB Industries in Smithtown, NY, who had a display with a building-like structure and four windows. "To go and show a small window or a window that is not in a building is inconsistent with those standards. The blast load hits windows in isolation in a different way than it hits a building. The only way you can show people what will happen is by creating a structure."

While Borow is adamant about displaying to GSA specifications, others in the industry maintain the FPED event was just a demonstration. "It has to be stated that this was a demonstration," said Andy Schuster of Film Technologies International of St. Petersburg, FL, which also demonstrated windows in a building-like structure. "No pass/fail criteria or specifications were set by the government."

"People show different products in different ways and some will attain more performance because of that," said Scott Haddock of GlassLock in San Jose, CA, who demonstrated films attached to thermally-tempered glass in an enclosure. "A number of us went in with the idea of doing something similar to what had been done on large scale blast tests with enclosures. We want to try to present a truer picture of what glass and film would do."

With no set specifications to follow or any other real controls, demonstrators seemingly have free rein at events such as FPED. In fact, the only real control is the informed consumer, which according to most exhibitors, constituted some of those in attendance. "I really feel a majority of the attendees understand the difference between a demonstration and a test," said Haddock. "However, it is up to exhibitors to disclose how they demonstrated."

Borow is a bit more cynical in her view, in essence regarding attendees as sheep being led to slaughter. "I think the people looking at these demonstrations really don’t know," she said. "They are at the mercy of people with a motivating interest to sell their products. They don’t know to ask questions."

As a solution to this, Borow has proposed having FPED management set certain requirements for the products being demonstrated. "It would be nice if FPED told everyone to come in with a certain size of glass and set them up at the same distance," she said.Others are not so sure this is a proper solution. "I think it would do more harm than good," said Nick Routh of MSC Specialty Films in Clearwater, FL. "I think we can usually explain the differences if someone asks."

Haddock agrees. "It is a demonstration, not a test environment," he said. "We cannot expect FPED to run it like an independently-controlled test range."

With FPED not likely to change the demonstration status of the event in the near future, uniformity activists, such as Borow, will have to rely on their own devices to try to bring consistency to the event. "People don’t know what to look for," she said. "It is up to us to educate them on what really happens."

Leslie Shaver is an assistant editor of USGlass magazine.


Copyright 1999 Key Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.