Volume 48, Issue 1 - January 2013


Could Bullet-Resistant Glazing Keep Schools Safer? Experts Weigh In
Would a different type of glass have made a difference December 14 in Newtown, Conn.? That’s a question many have asked since the Sandy Hook elementary school tragedy, as the perpetrator entered the school by shooting through a glass window near the entrance. Glazing industry experts pondered the question of glass usage and what was most likely used in the school, as well as whether another glass type could have resulted in different circumstances.

Industry expert Bob Brown of Robert L. Brown and Associates suggests the glass most likely was annealed, tempered or an insulating unit. He suspects most likely it was insulating, based on the cold Connecticut winters.

“Likely in a school it had some tempered on the indoor ply for safety,” he says. “If you could walk up to it, it would be easy enough to knock out with a bullet, not even a high-intensity bullet but just a bullet, or even if you struck it with the butt of a gun. Tempered glass is designed to break so that it doesn’t make severe lacerations and when struck with enough force it will break.”

He adds, “It wouldn’t have been too difficult for [the suspect] to get through that. I doubt it was laminated or bullet-resistant. Very few schools have bullet-resistant glass.”

Julia Schimmelpenningh, global applications manager/architectural for Eastman Chemical Company, agreed.

“I am not aware of what type of glass was in the windows of the school,” she says. “However, as he was able to get entry, I assume it was quick and effective. I would expect that it was some form of monolithic glass that could be shattered by hand or with easily accessible tools such as the butt of a gun, rock or similar impacting object.”

A representative of nearby Newtown Glass said he didn’t know who installed the glass, but concurred with Brown and Schimmelpenningh’s assessments. “No one puts bullet-resistant glass in any schools,” he said.

Lyle Hill, president of Keytech North America, pointed out that typically schools use “standard safety glazing materials in their entrance doors—typically tempered or laminated glass.”

“I have worked on schools in inner city locations where crime levels are high and bullet-resisting glass has been used in entrance areas and first-floor classrooms, but these situations are few and far between,” he said. “I think it is always easy to look at tragic events in retrospect and talk about what could have or should have been done to prevent it but I think in reality, at least this time, the type of glass used would not have mattered much or proven to be adequate in stopping this particular person,” says Hill.

Thom Zaremba, a code consultant for the Glazing Industry Code Council points out the problem is that any safety features considered must still make sense from a cost standpoint “and any safety feature, no matter how elaborate or expensive, can be defeated by a determined villain.” Zaremba explains, “If school access doors are the first line of defense and are locked from the inside, but contain fully tempered glass, the door lock can likely be defeated by simply breaking the tempered glass in the door or sidelite”

According to Zaremba laminated glazing, such as hurricane-resistant glazing for example, may not be as simple to defeat since even after it is struck by a bullet or other object the glass will break but, if properly constructed, will remain intact and in its frame.

“While it will not stop a bullet, it could make entry into the building a lot harder. Of course, bullet-resistant glass also exists, but is more expensive,” says Zaremba.

Urmilla Sowell, president of the Protective Glazing Council International and technical director for the Glass Association of North America, explains there are safety glazing and protective glazing systems available in the marketplace that have been tested to forced-entry and bullet-resistant standards, using established test protocols.

“These test methods utilize a combination of tools (weapons) and impact duration (the length of time it takes to penetrate the glazing material),” says Sowell, explaining that these materials are designed to protect a building’s occupants, but there can still be exceptions to their effectiveness.

“Tested forced entry-resistant glazing, ballistic-resistant glazing and other protective glazing materials and systems, appropriately speced and properly installed, can enhance the protection of a building, its occupants and its contents,” she says. “They are designed to discourage a person from entering the building for fear of being seen or caught by slowing them down and making it more difficult to penetrate the glazing materials. Unfortunately, someone who is motivated to enter a building to cause damage or harm may find a way, given enough time, because they are not concerned about getting caught or seen.”

As far as the Sandy Hook shooting, what if bullet-resistant or another impact-resistant glazing had been used? Could things have been different?

“I don’t believe one can or should say at this point that ‘such and such’ a glass could have prevented this horrible, heart-wrenching event, but I have to believe that safety or security glazing that has impact and glass shard retention characteristics could have either slowed down the entry or alerted someone about an issue that could have gotten help on the way a bit earlier,” says Schimmelpenningh.

However, change could be a positive for the future of school safety, she suggests.

“It is and has been my belief that all publicly-funded schools should be mandated to have high-performance glazing to enhance safety, security, sound and solar control to give our children the best possible chance of learning, succeeding and growing up to become productive members of our society,” says Schimmelpenningh. "Let’s face it – our fate is in their hands.”

Schimmelpenningh says she also has faced the same question from her own children—one of whom is in elementary school and the other in high school: “Could the glass you make have stopped this man?” “I had to answer, ‘It may have slowed him down, and caused him to seek another way in giving police a chance to react,’” she says. “Then they asked me what kind of glass was in their schools and I just about cried.”

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