A good bullet proof system begins with quality, UL-rated ballistic materials. But you can’t just slap those materials up haphazardly. Proper system design and installation is vital to making sure that your bullet resistant walls are actually prepared to stop bullets.
Good Materials Used Improperly
In response to recent school shootings and other attacks, we’ve seen the market flooded with a variety of classroom shields and ballistic clipboards. These are made of legitimate UL-rated bullet resistant fiberglass, often with a handle of some sort bolted to the back. But these shields are rarely themselves UL tested and certified, and with good reason: It’s unlikely they’d pass.
Total Security Solutions vice president Jim Richards–who has decades of experience designing, fabricating, and installing bullet resistant walls and systems–points out that when it comes to sticking a bolt right through the center of a piece of ballistic fiberglass, “that’s a problem; there’s weaknesses there now.”
This sort of mistake isn’t limited to fringe-market “classroom shields.” Because ballistic fiberglass is sized like sheetrock and can be worked with common hand tools, there’s a temptation to secure it along every stud, just the way you would with a sheet of drywall. A line of screws down the center of your barrier is bound to create a non-negligible weakness.
Properly Building a Bullet Resistant Wall
In a well designed bullet resistant wall system, all of the ballistic paneling is secured along its edges. Since this obviously creates weaknesses where panels meet, the edges are then reinforced with ballistic fiberglass batten strips, after which the final drywall or veneer is mounted over top the shielding. The finished result is a bullet proof wall entirely indistinguishable from its mundane counterparts.
But the integrity of a bullet resistant wall can be complicated by the structure being secured. For example, in most retrofits there are existing structural members and mechanicals to contend with, such as HVAC vents, electrical and data runs, and even plumbing. Retail customers–especially the most cost-conscious mom-and-pop operations–will occasionally elect to simply cut around these, much as you would with drywall. This doesn’t compromise the bullet resistant wall’s integrity in general–not in the way a straight row of drywall screws perforating a DuPont™ Kevlar® fiber panel will–but do create weak points.
Since these customers install a ballistic system largely to achieve deterrence and hedge their bets against a random bandit, they can accept this small degradation in security in favor of cutting costs. No one plans an intricate Oceans 11-style gas station heist, and its exceedingly unlikely that a random bullet will just happen to slip straight through the half-inch hole drilled to allow for an ethernet cable.