Impact-Proof Glass for Greater Safety and Security in Schools
As the debate over safety and security in schools continues and the search for solutions continues, school officials and construction engineers are looking for answers to reconfigure access, redesign interior floorplans, and introduce measures to protect students from armed intrusion. Since the Columbine attacks in Colorado in 1999, over 275 school shootings have been reported. While some of these incidents were accidental gun discharges, events such as Sandy Hook Elementary (CT), Parkland (FL), Red Lake (MN), and so many more have left 250 students and teachers dead and many more wounded.
According to a Washington Post report, since 2000, school shootings have averaged one per month and have occurred in 43 different states. In all, around 215,000 students have been exposed to the trauma of these shootings within their school buildings. Many will be affected for life by these occurrences.
No matter where people stand on gun violence and accessibility, we have a clear and severe threat of gun violence in schools from elementary through university levels.
Challenges to Safety and Security in Schools Today
Until recent decades, the principal challenge to student safety and security in schools was fire. All of us experienced fire drills, fire alarm testing, and preplanned exit routes that heightened our awareness and prepared us in case of an emergency. During the Cold War in the 1950s, safety and security in schools also consisted of bomb drills that required students to take shelter beneath their desks or gather at a predetermined location.
While evacuation of a majority of students during sudden and random attacks with automatic weapons has been possible, many students and teachers were helpless to flee or hide during the automatic weapon attacks. Although school systems have been developing contingency access and evacuation procedures to minimize the number of students exposed to any random attack, the tragic results continue to pile up.
Options for Effective Safety and Security in Schools
Many of the latest suggestions for countering unexpected attacks by gun-wielding intruders have centered around providing early warning through greater visibility, limiting access, and student-teacher-parent training programs.
- Replace standard breakable glass windows and interior walls with impact or bullet-resistant glass.
- Remove shrubbery and landscaping features to open up exterior visibility.
- Install more closed-circuit TV monitoring of exteriors, playgrounds, entryways, hallways, playgrounds, and cafeterias.
- Create a single widened entryway and lock all other exterior entries.
- Reposition mechanical and electrical systems and restrooms away from the entryway to eliminate power shutdowns and hiding places.
- Require visitors to sign in and wear badges while on the premises.
- Employ stricter procedures for key control to allow as few people as possible to have responsibility for locking sections of the building.
- Lock classrooms when not in use.
- Encourage students to report suspicious activity through anonymous report systems and develop a “Tell an Adult” campaign.
- Practice evacuation, lockdown, and meeting point procedures.
Hurricane-Proof Glass at Parkland Saved Lives
According to official and unofficial sources including Campus Safety publication and CBS New York, many lives were saved by hurricane-resistant glass installed at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida. After the initial attacks, the gunman attempted to create a sniper’s nest to shoot fleeing students by shooting out a third-story stairwell window. The glass, installed as protection against hurricanes, did not shatter from the 16 rounds from the shooter’s AR15 automatic weapon. At that time, the weapon jammed and the shooter was forced to flee.
Although 17 lives were lost and more were injured in the incident, the shatter-proof glass undoubtedly saved many more lives.
Installation of Bullet-Proof Glass to Enhance Safety and Security in Schools
Hurricane-proof glass is mandatory in schools in many areas of Florida where the threat of extreme weather is prevalent. However, after the Parkland incident, school systems throughout the nation are looking at reinforced glass replacements to enhance safety and security in schools in their areas.
How can impact-resistant glass windows or glass block enhance safety and security in schools?
- First, as in Parkland, the hurricane-proof glass did not shatter when struck. Standard windows can allow for a clear view and provide a shooter with easy targets.
- Secondly, if the shooter is attempting to access the building through a window, reinforced glass or glass block will not allow entry.
- Thirdly, building occupants may be able to see a shooter’s location without being exposed to shots fired, allowing for proper evacuation or cover.
- In the past, school officials have determined that interior glass walls allow more natural light into classrooms to encourage collaboration and even reduce energy usage. Traditional glass walls only increase the risk to more students as an armed intruder may see into adjoining rooms. Standard glass provides no security. Conversely, if the walls are replaced with shatter and bullet-proof interior walls, the intruder’s position is more detectable while students and teachers in adjoining spaces are protected as they evacuate or take cover.
- During hasty evacuations, installing impact-resistant glass in all exit doors with push bar mechanisms will eliminate the potential for breakage and injury, while providing additional protection from a shooter in pursuit.
Other Positive Attributes of Glass Block and Impact-Resistant Glass Walls and Windows
Safety and security in schools is the primary consideration for all. When evaluating the installation of these materials in schools for higher levels of protection, other elements should come into play.
For example, budgets are always an issue when considering school modifications. Rather than cut the quality of education and school programs to create a safer environment for students and teachers, officials should recognize offsetting factors that may make the investment easier to approve.
Replacing solid walls with impact resistant glass will admit more natural light into the classroom. Note also that solid glass is an excellent thermal insulator.
Throughout a large school building, the practice of reducing energy for light, heat, and air conditioning can generate significate long-term savings to offset the expense of retrofitting the building.
Natural Light and Student Benefits
Adding light-admitting, impact-resistant walls to classrooms not only enhances the school’s security, but the additional natural light has positive benefits for students. According to Healthy Schools.com, “daylighting” and full spectrum lighting is associated with healthy students. On the other hand, inappropriate, unnatural lighting can affect their ability to learn.
The article further shows that students exposed to natural light demonstrated better work habits, improved academic performance, and more positive attitudes.
Including Impact-Resistant Glass in Future School Floorplans
Reinforced glass must be incorporated into new school building designs. As we move forward from the tragedies of the past two decades, new designs should include heightened security elements as much as an enhanced learning experience. Our nation’s future depends on keeping our children motivated to come to school, to learn in a safe school environment, and to be free of the trauma created by these disastrous events.
Contact GBA Architectural Products and Services
For information regarding impact-resistant glass products, contact GBA. The professionals at GBA will explain the capabilities of their world-class glass products and can advise ways to improve safety and security in schools.
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