Strategy and Options for Ballistically Protecting Your School

The philosophy of a systems approach, a product overview, and where to install different products for maximum protection.

If you’re a school administrator faced with the daunting task of identifying ballistic barrier products to install in your school, chances are you need a source of clear, practical recommendations. That’s why two industry-leading ballistic protection companies—Total Security Solutions and Ballistic Barrier Products —came together to provide the information you need to make an informed decision.

This article will provide a helpful overview of best practices involved in your decision-making process:

  1. Weapons trends
  2. Ballistic barrier use in schools
  3. Available products review
  4. Product application
  5. Testing and compliance
  6. Additional resources

I. School Violence Trends
In 2022, there were 51 school shootings that resulted in at least one injury or death. If that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is; of the last five years of data, 2022 was the worst. (EducationWeek.)

According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, most mass school shootings involve a handgun (81%). However, it’s common for shooters to use more than one firearm, such as a handgun and a high-capacity rifle or shotgun. A school shooting (both mass shootings and events with fewer than four casualties) is more likely to be deadly if the shooter uses a high-capacity rifle or shotgun and is able to enter the school. Indeed, according to the Government Accountability Office (GOA), shootings inside a school are three times deadlier than shootings that take place outside the building, despite accounting for just under 40% of total school shootings.

II. Using Ballistic Barriers in School Settings: Think Systematically
Evaluating your building and prioritizing security at key points is the most practical way to make the most of your ballistic barriers, minimize damage, and save lives. Ballistic barriers are most effective when schools:

  • Funnel students, staff, and visitors through one main entrance, keeping all other exterior doors locked
  • Install layers of security at vulnerable exterior points and throughout the building
  • Utilize a silent alarm system that engages with safety features and alerts the police

Using a systems approach, the priority is to keep shooters from entering the school, especially if they have high-power, high-capacity firearms. However, if a shooter does enter, the school’s ballistic barrier system should close off sections of the school, preventing them from reaching classrooms. If a shooter manages to penetrate these doors, classroom-level security should prevent the shooter from entering.

III. Products Available With Which to Layer Your Security

Bulletproof Glass, Doors, and Fiberglass Panels (Total Security Solutions)

Bulletproof Glass
Bulletproof windows are made from acrylic, polycarbonate, glass, and combinations of these materials. The composition depends on the desired protection level; options include protection from a variety of handguns, rifles, and semi-automatic carbines. Bulletproof glass can be fabricated into windows, walls of glass, doors, transaction windows, and other custom configurations. Once installed, bulletproof glass looks nearly identical to standard glass. However, it is thicker and heavier than standard glass, so some projects may need special framing. It is important to note that the weight of the glass does not negatively impact its usability.

These systems should always be made custom for the space they’re going into, which guarantees a perfect functional and aesthetic fit. Once installed, the only special treatment required is careful selection of cleaning materials. Traditional window cleaners and rough cleaning materials can damage certain compositions of bulletproof glass. The manufacturer can provide more information and a suitable product.

Bulletproof Doors
Bulletproof doors are made from wood, steel, stainless steel, veneer, wood, and other materials. They can protect from handgun and rifle shots, depending on the style. Door styles range from standard slab steel to customized designs that are identical to existing doors, including oversize designs. They can be made compatible with auto-lock systems.

Ballistic Fiberglass
Bulletproof fiberglass panels add a layer of ballistic protection to any interior surface, like walls, desks, or countertops. Panels can be covered with drywall, veneer, laminate, and other materials; once installed, they’re totally invisible.

Bullet-Resistant Window Shades, Door Shields, and Hallway Barriers (Ballistic Barrier Products)
Bullet-resistant window treatments look just like standard blackout shades, but with a Kevlar® core. They can stop shots from most commercially-available handguns; they are not certified for protection against rifle fire.

On average, the motorized rate of shade descent is one foot per second; manual operation is also available. Motorized units can be controlled locally by wall-mount or handheld remote switches and/or activated by a central security system.

Door shields are applied to existing doors, providing the same handgun threat protection as the window shades. Unlike window shades that raise and lower, the door shields cover the surface of the door in a fixed installation. Door shields are secured to the top and bottom of the door, and do not require reinforcement of the existing door, hinges or door jam.

Hallway barriers can be mounted to the wall or ceiling. They can roll down like a shade or be mounted to a gate on the wall.

Despite being heavier than the average window treatment, no special framing is required to mount bullet-resistant shades. When a shade is shot, the fabric absorbs the force of the bullet. This makes it ideal for use in older construction or historic buildings because the walls or ceiling do not need to be structurally reinforced. There are no special installation requirements, so your school’s maintenance department can likely handle installation in 30 minutes to an hour. Window shades and door shields can also be moved and removed.

Security Window Film
Security window film is a very thin layer of polyester that is applied to window glass in order to hold glass pieces together when the glass is shattered. This typically slows an intruder down, but does not stop bullets. This makes film an ideal solution in combination with bullet-resistant products or in locations where there is a low risk of someone being struck by a bullet, such as an egress basement window.

IV. Product Applications by Location Within School
We generally advise stakeholders to add the highest level of protection to areas where an intruder must go. Add lower levels of protection to areas where an intruder may go.

For instance, locking exterior doors funnels an intruder to the main entrance. Ideally, the main entrance is reinforced, making it the most secure point in the building. The best practice in this area is to use two sets of bulletproof doors to create a secure vestibule to trap the intruder and keep them from proceeding. From there, locking bulletproof interior doors that close automatically would prevent an intruder from getting further into a school.

Since classrooms are behind two layers of robust security, lower levels of protection are acceptable. In particular, film and Kevlar door shields in combination can be a practical way to secure classroom doors.

For windows, bulletproof glass is ideal for locations that must maintain visibility (such as a front office) and Kevlar barriers are desirable when you want to prevent line of sight (such as doors or exterior windows in a classroom).

V. Product Testing and Compliance
Third-party testing is the only way to ensure barrier products work as advertised. The Underwriters Laboratories (UL) 752 standard and NIJ standard are two common guidelines for ballistic products. BBP products are certified to the UL 752 standard; TSS products are independently tested to the UL 752 standard.

UL 752 Levels 1-3 protect from a variety of handgun fire and Levels 4-8 protect from a variety of rifle fire (including semi-automatic). The difference in the levels is the testing conditions–the speed of the bullet, its composition, and the number of shots fired. If you’re considering a product but there is no certification information provided, ask for it.

VI. Conclusion
These general best practices are a great start for ballistically protecting your school. However, speaking with a security expert is the best way to get a comprehensive, thorough safety plan based on your school’s unique situation. There are also school security grants available for funding your projects which can make the addition of certain safety barriers more affordable.

This article originally appeared in the September / October 2023 issue of Campus Security Today.

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