Guns & Weapons for Law Enforcement Magazine Reprint (October 1998)

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Guns & Weapons for Law Enforcement Magazine Reprint (October 1998)

Glass That’s Shatterproof?

New Security film protects glass; it becomes a thin– but sure– line of defense!

By Jeff Dingle

On two occassions during the same month, a window was knocked out of the entrance of a major retailer’s store in an up scale mall in Atlanta. The target was designer clothes, Tommy Hilfiger to be specific, and the loss each time was in the ten’s of thousands. A few days later, a jewelry store in an upscale mall in Florida was robbed of several extremely large diamond rings. While an accomplice distracted the store’s salesmen, the top of the glass display case was smashed, the thief simply grabbed a handful of rings and ran out of the store.

With all of the high tech security available, how did this happen? The point of entry in both robberies was glass. In one case, the glass was broken, the burglars stepped through the eight-foot-tall window frame, loaded the merchandise into a waiting car, and left, while in the other instance, the showcase was easily smashed by a thief.

Glass is one of the weakest points in any physical security program and the most secure facilities are generally the ones with the least glass. Glass is often chosen as an entry point because it breaks easily. Of course, stores, offices, etc., have walls and doors, and some of these will be protected by sophisticated security systems that are difficult to breach. However, a hammer or even a rock is all that’s needed to breach most windows.

There are generally three basic ways to protect glass. Removal (“boarding up”), bars/gates, or replacement with bullet resistant material. Removing glass or boarding up windows in not an option in most cases. Windows allow light, improve aesthetics and are necessary for a variety of reasons. Bars allow light, but are aesthetically inappropriate for many applications.

Another option to retain the appearance of glass is to replace existing glass with ballistic (bullet resistant) “glass”. Ballistic glass is not really glass but any one of a combination of clear laminate materials. Aside from being expensive and difficult to work with, ballistic is very thick and often provides a distorted image.

While we cannot prevent glass from being broken, the breakage can be controlled and minimized. Covering the window with a special security film will prevent broken glass from separating. This optically clear (or tinted) film is applied directly to existing glass. While the glass still breaks, the film holds all of the broken pieces together. Holding glass together serves two purposes: first, it prevents an opening from being created in the broken glass; secondly, collateral damage (such as injuries from flying glass) is significantly reduced.

The reduction in collateral damage is especially important where there’s a bomb threat. Flying glass and debris are a major source of personal injury when there’s an explosion. A properly filmed window not only stops glass from flying, it also prevents other debris from flying through the window.

Filming glass is relatively inexpensive compared to replacing glass with ballistic laminate. Additionally, filming can be accomplished without the remodeling necessary to replace glass. In most cases film can be installed without significant operational disruption. If properly applied, the film is optically clear and does not alter the appearance of the glass. Appearance wise, it’s difficult to tell what glass has film and what glass hasn’t.

A film only 14 mil thick was placed over glass and tested in August, 1996. The filmed glass successfully prevented penetration by handgun ammunition fired from .38 Special (158 grains at a maximum velocity of 780 feet per second [fps]), 9mm Luger (124 grains at a maximum velocity of 1160 fps) and a .44 Magnum (240 grains at a maximum velocity of 1410 fps) from a distance of 25 feet. While filming glass won’t guarantee no bullet will ever penetrate, it significantly reduces the threat from firearms.

In addition to breakage control from intentional damage, filming glass can provide several corollary benefits. Film can be either clear or tinted, with tinting serving to reduce both heat and glare. Window film also protects against ultraviolet rays. While neither of these is a primary security reason to film windows, their no-extra-cost benefit cannot be easily dismissed.

Filming windows also increases protection from storm damage, keeping glass intact and lessening water damage. Fire damage is decreased by prevention of glass breakage, which can feed oxygen to a fire.

Still want proof? Security Consultant David Henderman, with Atlanta based Operations Security International, recently had the opportunity to test a sample. “I beat on it with a Louisville Slugger, and I couldn’t break it,” states Henderman, “ultimately it was the bat that broke first.”

Glass filming is finding other applications as well. Car windows of police patrol cars are being filmed to provide additional protection to officers, and likewise vehicles used to transport dignitaries for executive protection. Private citizens are filming personal cars in urban areas where auto burglaries are a problem. Thanks to the low cost of film, it’s also being applied to windows of private residences in high crime areas to prevent those burglaries where access is gained by either reaching through or climbing through broken glass.

ShatterGard (8351 Roswell Road, Suite 196, Dept. GW/LE, Atlanta, GA 30350. ShatterGard provides security window film for a variety of applications. ShatterGard Vice President Jordan Frankel states “film is available in different thicknesses and tints, depending on the necessary applications. According to Frankel, there has been a significant increase in the use of window film, due to the reliability of the product and low key nature of the application. Also contact them on the web at www.shattergard.com.