Four Misconceptions About Bulletproof Building Security

Jim Richards has spent decades securing buildings with ballistic materials. He and his team at Total Security Solutions have designed, engineered, fabricated, and installed more than 25,000 ballistic systems worldwide. They’ve seen it all—including a handful of mistakes, misconceptions, and misunderstandings that crop up over and over again.

“A big part of our work is education,” Jim explains. “Even as ballistic materials become more commonplace, most people have no idea what they don’t know—and little opportunity to realize that a lot of what they think they know comes from movies rather than reality.”

There are four key misconceptions about ballistic security that Jim and his team face most often.

Misconception 1: Ballistic Glass Is Indestructible

If you only see bulletproof glass in movies or video games, not only is there little distinction between the different types of glass, bulletproof glass is portrayed as indestructible. It doesn’t matter what’s thrown at the barrier—bullets, blasts, fireballs, tornado winds, crushing blows, even scratches. The bulletproof glass can stand up to anything. In reality, you need very different products to stop a .22 shot compared to multiple rounds from an AR-15, and different products altogether if you’re worried about blasts or natural disasters. 

There are many different types of bulletproof glass, each designed to meet a specific level of safety criteria. We test to the UL 752 standard for bulletproof materials. Each level of the UL 752 standard corresponds to a certain number of bullets that can be stopped when fired from a certain caliber of firearm from a certain distance. For instance, UL Level 1 bulletproof glass can stop three shots from a 9mm handgun.

Importantly, bulletproof glass is designed to stop bullets. What’s good for stopping bullets might not be good for resisting other things. As a result, bulletproof glass can be susceptible to other types of damage, like scratches or crazing. A lot of people are surprised to learn that something as simple as window cleaner could damage something that can stop a bullet. If you need bulletproof protection, but are worried about the effects of wear and tear, talk to a TSS ballistics expert to learn more about your options.

Misconception 2: Ballistic Security Is a One-Time Purchase

If all goes well, you shouldn’t need to think about your bulletproof barrier for quite a few years. But the truth is you should reassess your bulletproof barrier to make sure you’re still getting the protection you need as time goes on—and there are a few instances that should cause you to reassess (or even replace) your existing bulletproof barrier.  

Replace Your System to Improve Aesthetics

Many people treat their ballistic windows as though they are made entirely of glass, which has a very hard surface. “That can be a disaster, aesthetically,” Jim points out. 

“If you have tempered glass doors and you’re polishing the door handles or exit device with chrome cleaner, it’s no big deal if some gets on the glass. But if you have ballistic glass doors, the outer surface is usually polycarbonate. That same cleaner will permanently damage the polycarbonate outer surface. It can still stop a bullet, but it doesn’t look great.”

UV rays can also damage bulletproof glass over time, causing the thermoplastic elements to yellow. Exterior ballistic glass may need to be replaced after several decades— a normal lifespan for an intact bulletproof barrier.  

Replace Your System to Reflect a New Threat Level

In addition to being properly maintained, reassess your bulletproof barrier to ensure it’s still performing as designed and to ensure the level of protection is still able to cover current risk and threats. 

Twenty years ago, high-powered rifles were rarely involved in street crime and the idea of a school or office building wanting Level 4 or 5 barriers was rare. Today, one in 20 U.S. adults own an AR-15. Most of the mass shootings since 2012 have involved rifles of this caliber according to the AFT. Now, we regularly recommend ballistic barriers at this level, simply because it’s a present  risk. If your barrier is older and your threat level now includes tactical rifles, you may need to replace the system with something more up-to-date and comprehensive.

Misconception 3: Comprehensive Security Is Prohibitively Expensive

“We had a hospital that wanted to pretty much secure everything,” Jim recalls. “When you worked all of that out on paper, the total was huge: I think it started out at around $1.2 million. That was out of the question. But the thing is, the hospital didn’t need all of that, not if they looked at security in terms of systems and layers. 

“So, we really dug into what their goals were and what type of barrier needed to go where. The final estimate was a much more realistic number—a fraction of where they started. And they still got the protection they needed.” 

Scenarios like this are extremely common. Too often, organizations forgo reasonable security upgrades because they are scared off by the price tag for an excessive physical security overhaul. This is why we recommend working with an experienced provider like TSS. We can help you understand what you need and recommend the required security improvements—which are often a more strategic and modest version of the original plan.

We also frequently help customers stagger their upgrades over the course of several years to make security more affordable and easy. There are so many ways to balance cost, functionality, and scope in order to get a project done. If you have concerns about budgets or timelines, don’t wait to talk to TSS.

“We always look to right-size the project to the budget to the need. If you have $30,000 to spend on a renovation, and want to replace every door, window, and wall with Level 5 ballistic materials, you aren’t going to get far. But more often than not, a few modest modifications can scale back the area you need to secure. Or, you can find ways to increase security incrementally, across several smaller projects. There are always plenty of options we can explore. ” 

Misconception 4: Systems Don’t Need to Work Together

Many people believe that adding more security layers makes a building more secure. Unfortunately, the opposite is usually true.

“A ballistic system is only as good as the surrounding environment and the safety procedures,” Jim notes. If there is a procedural weakness or another building system that interferes with your physical security solution, it will undermine safety.

“For example, does your barrier design consider sound flow and voice transmission? If not, your receptionist is going to constantly open the window so they can hear people. Are you considering traffic flow, or are there times of day when people are coming through so quickly that the door has no time to fully close and secure? Are you being diligent in making sure that there are no heating and cooling issues? Do you take care of balancing the HVAC, or does the person sitting behind that bullet-resistant window have to prop open the door because they need to get some airflow?”

HVAC systems, signage, how visitors are greeted, the onboarding process for new employees—all of these are vital systems for any building, and all contribute to your ballistic security.

“What often happens,” according to Jim, “is that a false sense of security settles in when you add security upgrades. They have a bullet-resistant system. But it’s only as good as your processes. I’m assuming that they have processes and procedures, but are they being fully followed? Or have people gotten lax because they feel safe now? We’ve all been to businesses, county or municipal offices—even schools—where you walk up to the door and get buzzed in without a word. In that situation, a sizable investment in security systems hasn’t increased their safety at all.”

Improve Building Safety with Total Security Solutions

If your business is looking for an effective security system that seamlessly integrates with daily operations, don’t wait to give us a call. TSS can help you design a system that meets your specific needs, and we are ready to handle the entire project from start to finish. 

Download our free Ultimate Guide to Ballistic Security today. If you have questions or want to get started with a project, contact our ballistic security experts. We’ll talk through your options and deliver a proposal in a timely manner. We look forward to speaking with you! 

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