Volume 37, Issue 4, April 2002

No Flying Zone
        Government Acts to Prevent  Glass Shrapnel
by Jay Larkin

Although the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms data indicates there were more than 8,000 bombings in the United States between 1993 and 1997, it was not until the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon that the government took dramatic action to address what is widely regarded as a deadly bombing hazard: flying glass.

Oklahoma City—Legislative Initiatives
Discussion, research and testing began in the wake of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City. Much of this was sparked by a legislative initiative driven by the Protecting People First Foundation, a civic organization led in part by Aren Almon-Kok, the mother of the 1-year-old child who was photographed as she was carried from the Murrah building rubble. As a result of these efforts, President Bill Clinton ordered shatter-resistant windows or protective glass films be installed at daycare centers at high-risk federal buildings. But though nobly intentioned, actual changes were incremental at best.

Unlike many nations, the majority of U.S. government offices are not gated facilities, inaccessible to the general public. Rather they are often situated alongside private buildings in densely populated commercial areas. This design, though symbolic of the country’s national freedom, greatly increases its vulnerability as well as the risk of collateral damage should an attack occur.

September 11—Urgent Reaction
If one were to describe the government’s response to the Oklahoma City bombing as legislative, then it follows that its reaction to the September 11 attacks could be categorized as urgent. The General Services Administration (GSA), the body that acts as the government’s real estate arm, presented a report to Congress recommending action plans for building improvements, particularly in the area of window film and anchoring systems. In the months that followed, the government identified 65 buildings as potential sites for glass-hardening systems, and budgeted $32 million for window upgrades in Washington, D.C., alone.

Blast consultant Darrell Barker of ABS Consulting, a firm that assesses risk associated with blast, flood, wind and seismic activities, agreed. “Interest is way up since 9-11,” Barker said. He added that workers have begun asking their employers what is being done to protect them from terrorism.

Installing Safety Systems
Of course directives and capital are only part of the solution. To truly protect building occupants and minimize structural damage from bomb blasts, one must install the safety systems that correspond to the building’s unique needs. There are a staggering number of potential window safety solutions available including window films, glass curtains, anchoring systems, bonding systems, wet glazes, catch-bar systems and cable arrest systems. Thus, it is critical that an independent blast consultant evaluate the job spec, conduct a risk assessment of the structure and recommend the products to be installed and the processes to be followed.
Barker underscores the importance of making engineering-based decisions when evaluating window-safety products. “Often a client just hears from a vendor hawking its wares. This can be dangerous because installing too strong a film for the structure can actually do more harm than good,” he added, explaining that in such cases the entire window could be driven intact into the building.

One recent project upon which Barker worked was the Jacob Javitz Federal Center at 26 Fed Plaza in New York City, a 41-story building comprised of more than 7,000 windows. Barker helped the center’s blast engineer David Segarmeister assess needs and threats to identify a solution for the building’s particular situation. “We are not tied to any particular method of protection,” Barker said. He encourages clients to look for vendors that have commissioned testing by reputable firms and provide multiple data points. The experts determined 26 Fed Plaza required a combination of security-grade window films and anchoring systems.

Madico was selected as the building’s film and anchoring system provider. “Madico has the largest number of data points for its product, and it has brought in responsible people to help analyze their test results,” said Barker.

Testing is Crucial
Testing is a major element of any window-safety project, particularly one for a federal building. The GSA has been publishing standards since 1999, and activity in this area has intensified since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Tests typically consist of the detonation of a powerful explosive, producing a shock in the air, which takes the form of a rapidly expanding pressure wave in the surrounding atmosphere. The blast wave expands outward until it meets an object (e.g., glazed and anchored window) in its path. Tests are conducted with different charge sizes at different ranges. Vendors use blast-resistance results, typically a ratio of charge force at varying distances and angles, to differentiate their film and anchoring products by blast resistance.

Window films and anchoring systems are no longer reserved for high-risk buildings, such as those that house explosives or have been previous terrorist targets. Today, public and commercial buildings install these products for a host of reasons, not limited to safety and security.

For example, one federal building in Anchorage, Alaska, recently upgraded its windows. The GSA conducted a blast analysis and recommended a number of upgrades aimed at not only increasing security, but also reducing summertime heat gain. Rather than hire a single vendor for the complete project, the project manager selected a number of best-in-breed companies. Madico installed daylight-applied window film to minimize glass shattering and heat gain, while Armour Holdings installed blast curtains to prevent shards from being scattered into the building’s interior. Multi-purpose upgrades, such as the one in Anchorage, are becoming more popular as advances in window film technology converge with the government’s dedication to anti-terrorist measures.

Although complete security may be unachievable, the government’s pursuit of it is necessary to help reduce risk and deter future attacks. Long aware of the dangers of flying glass, political leaders are now taking swift measures to protect against future dangers, and the private sector is responding with expert counsel and advanced products to ensure we remain free to conduct business without interruption … and without fear.

Jay Larkin
serves as manager, safety and security films for Madico Inc., based in Woburn, Mass.


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