Field Notes

Delay, Delay, Delay!

By Chuck Knickerbocker

I have an office inside my home. Outside the “office” window is an overlook of an elementary school, and across the street from it is the high school that some of my grandkids attend. And it got me to thinking…

It’s said that John F. Kennedy, when talking about nuclear war, simplified the discussion by saying, “Our most common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.” It’s the third point that I want to focus on as it relates to school shootings. And let’s throw workplace incidents into the mix while we’re at it, or any of the other situations where the use of glass gets called into question. Regardless of the location, these insidious acts seem to occur on an all too frequent basis.

The question that keeps us all up at night is, ‘Can anything be done?’ Given the limited amount of resources, especially in school districts, it often seems unrealistic to upgrade facilities to the point where no one can get hurt. So we all wrestle with this question: Is there anything that can get us to ramp up the level of protection?

Bullet-resistant glazing exists, and there’s no doubt that, in some instances, it may indeed be the best answer. In a school, maybe the glazing between the office and the entry portal in the vestibule should be constructed of bullet-resistant glazing.

But that, too, assumes we know the type of attack. Underwriters Laboratories (UL) has different bullet-resistant ratings depending on the type of weapon used. The second you say you’re going to resist a certain means/method of attack, it’s a question of whether it’s enough, or should we go up one more step?

The more vulnerable points of attack remain the doors into the rest of the building, as well as the windows in classrooms, entryways, etc. None of us want to wall those up, or replace glass doors with reinforced steel maximum security prison doors. Giving up daylighting benefits for security is a discussion, but not a productive one, considering the ability of daylight to contribute to an atmosphere of learning.

Julie Schimmelpenningh of Eastman Chemical has made a case that there’s an intermediate step that is not as costly as bullet-resistant glass, can use existing framing and offers a chance for the first responders to get to a scene and take over. The means she suggested was incorporating laminated glass into school or workplace glazing.

One, yes, laminated glass is more expensive than tempered glass. And, it is not bullet-resistant. In fact, bullets will pass through most laminated glass constructions. But, it stays in the opening and prevents the perpetrators from coming through the glazing system. Tempered glass breaks and evacuates the opening and would not delay the attacker from further ingress into the site. Even with automatic weapons, the laminated glass may be riddled with holes. But if the perp can’t get through, it may have slowed the attacker down to the point where the first responders get a chance to arrive on site.

For the sake of this article, I’m talking about non-fire-rated security glazing. Such multifunctional products do exist, but they require a different set of performance criteria.

Consulting with the first responders, the site administrators and the decision makers is also necessary, but once a consensus is reached on how to go about protecting these sites, everyone can sleep better without breaking the bank and sacrificing the aesthetics windows and glass offer, while trying to limit the devastation.

So that we can ensure our kids and grand-kids can come home each and every night, I hope you’ll consider giving renewed interest to other glazing options, keeping our most precious resources safe, safer, safest.

Chuck Knickerbocker is the curtainwall manager for Technical Glass Products (TGP), a supplier of fire-rated glass and framing systems, along with specialty architectural glazing products. With more than 35 years of curtainwall experience, he has worked successfully with numerous architects, building owners and subcontractors from development of schematic design through installation. He can be contacted via email at

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