As the new school year begins, districts across the country continue to re-evaluate their security procedures and disaster readiness. In many districts–and even for the entire state of West Virginia–this has meant mandating shatter-proof or bullet proof glass in school renovations and new construction.
Properly integrating bullet proof security into a school’s design is challenging. Lining every wall with fiberglass, ballistically hardening each door, and swapping out every window with bullet proof glass is restrictively expensive. But converting the existing entryway vestibule into a secured reception area gives a school high security at low cost, without distracting from the core educational mission.
BULLET RESISTANT GLASS VESTIBULES: PART OF THE PACKAGE
Jim Richards–a security expert with decades of experience in the design, fabrication, and implementation of bullet resistant systems–is quick to point out that bullet proof glass is just one component of the school’s security and response system.
“It’s part of a bigger package of policies and procedures, and how they handle emergencies. Provided that a school is properly staffed and trained, then all they really needs is a way to make sure that all visitors are channeled through a single point of entry. What we’ve seen a lot of in school renovations and new construction is reinforcing the front vestibule: Replace the existing widows with bullet resistant glass, add a transaction window for the receptionist, then secure the interior bullet resistant doors with electric latches controlled by the receptionist. Once you have the ability to lock that vestibule down, no one enters the building without authorization.”
LOW-PROFILE, LOW-COST BULLET PROOF GLASS VESTIBULES
The beauty of the bullet resistant vestibule is two-fold. First and foremost, it is unobtrusive. “The way we design our systems, we integrate the bullet proof glass and frames into the school’s design, increasing the level of security that’s there without drawing attention to itself. The goal is that when visitors walk in they don’t know the difference between the bullet proof glass sealing off the vestibule and the rest of the building.”
This is in sharp contrast to outmoded security measures of the past, such as front-door metal detectors and police kiosks. These have the unfortunate side effect of leaving families nervous and older students feeling like they are prisoners, instead of partners in learning.
The other advantage to this approach is that, by constraining the scope of the project to just the vestibule entryway, costs are highly contained. In the context of school construction projects–which average around $20 million for a U.S. high school, and $7 million for an elementary school–the full cost of a bullet resistant glass vestibule access point system is well under 1 percent of the total construction cost.
As Jim notes, when a design is sensitive to both security needs and funding constraints, “That can only be a positive. I don’t see any negative coming out of this.”