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Many administrators and community leaders are finding themselves thinking about physical security and asking, “Should I be bulletproofing my building?”
Both mass shootings and hate crimes are on the rise (according to a recent analysis by the Washington Post and a report released in August by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism). This trend is forcing many organizations who have not traditionally needed to focus on physical security—small schools, religious groups, community centers, non-profits—to take a fresh look at their threats and vulnerabilities.
Such an undertaking can quickly begin to feel overwhelming. Here are six questions to guide your thinking as you consider your organization’s physical security needs.
1. What Do Organizations Like Ours Do For Physical Security?
Most non-profits, community centers, small schools, churches, and other religious organizations that need to enhance their security look to make two changes:
- Welcoming all visitors through a single entrance monitored by a trained greeter or receptionist
- Reinforcing that entrance
Most buildings already have a vestibule entrance that can be readily secured, making this a very practical choice. Such a renovation usually entails swapping out the interior doors with something heartier (either heavier standard doors, or true bullet-resistant rated doors), adding a “buzz thru” electric strike or other access control system, and installing either a communication system or a transaction window (i.e., “teller window”), so that the receptionist/greeter can safely and easily talk to visitors before letting them have access to your building and patrons.
2. What Level of Protection Do We Need To Improve Building Security?
True bullet-resistant materials carry a “UL rating.” This means they’ve been lab-tested to confirm they will stop at least some specific number of bullets of some specific size. In practice, many bullet-resistant components will outperform their rating; for example, a TSS Level 3 door is tested to UL standards, confirming it will stop five bullets from a common 9mm pistol. In the video below, you will see such a doorstop more than 100 rounds from every sort of firearm, including high-power assault weapons and tactical rifles.
Due to the recent string of horrific mass shootings using AR-15 and similar “assault rifles,” many organizations are under the impression that they need a barrier that will to stop multiple bursts from a high-powered tactical rifle. But, our analysis shows that unless your organization knows of a specific, credible, ongoing threat, this very expensive level of physical security is unnecessary.
Today, most small, community-oriented organizations looking to improve physical security of their buildings go with Levels 1 to 3 for their bulletproof systems. These stop various types of pistol fire. (Small, easily concealable sidearms are by far the most common weapons used in assaults, including mass shooting events.) If you have exterior windows that you consider vulnerable, bulletproofing your building may include replacing these with Level 4 or Level 5 ballistic security glass. Level 4 and 5 glass stop bullets designed for penetration through concealment and cover, such as those from a high-powered or sniper rifle. Level 4 and 5 materials also offer some forced-entry and blast protection.
Many community organizations also consider insulated ballistic glass. Originally designed specifically for schools, these carry a lower bullet-resistance rating but are more resistant to blasts, forced-entry, and vandalism than conventional Level 1–3 windows. Additionally, these windows offer superb weatherproofing and some products even come in “self-tinting” varieties (significantly improving occupant comfort on a daily basis).
3. How Can We Improve The Look Of Our Bulletproof Barrier?
Making sure the members of your community and friendly visitors are comfortable and feel welcome is important. For decades, Total Security Solutions has specialized in creating unobtrusive, “seamless” enhanced bulletproof systems. We find that if you and your staff feel safe and can communicate smoothly, you will create an inviting atmosphere—one that makes the barrier disappear.
There are two keys to keeping your building inviting, even as you increase security:
- Focus on “natural sound”: Chose a bullet-resistant window system that allows voices to carry as easily and naturally as possible. Avoid intercom systems when possible. This saves money and usually has more aesthetically pleasing results.
- Avoid visual obstructions and the flat “glass wall” feel: Don’t use solid steel voice port grates or other communication devices that block the view of the staff member’s face. And don’t create an acrylic “Berlin Wall.” A tall, flat barrier can be very imposing. Your barrier doesn’t have to go all the way to the ceiling to be effective. Those reaching as high as eight or nine feet can usually provide all the protection you need while allowing natural airflow (easier on your HVAC system, and thus more comfortable for visitors and workers alike) and retaining a natural acoustic environment. Flame-polished finishes and baffle or arch window designs will give the system “depth,” allowing the glass barrier to blend smoothly.
4. What’s Best For Natural Sound?
If your barrier is entirely protected from the weather (such as a reception lobby), then a baffle or arch window offers excellent voice communication. But many vestibules get either very hot or very cold (depending on the season), or let in a great deal of weather. If you are installing a window in a vestibule, workers may be more comfortable with a system that is better insulated from the elements. Consider a voice port (with clear backer), or a Natural Voice Rail (NVR) or Aluminum Voice Around transaction window. As a practical matter, exterior transaction windows sometimes need to use an electronic intercom system.
5. What Will Bulletproofing Cost?
Most bullet resistant barriers for smaller schools, religious organizations, and other community groups will cost between $10,000 and $20,000.
There are two factors that contribute to this price tag:
- True bullet resistant components (windows, doors, etc.) cost at least twice as much as their standard equivalents. A quality aluminum-frame entry door costs around $1,000. A door that looks the same, but provides ballistic protection costs $4,000. That cost difference reflects both a difference in materials (bullet resistant materials are thicker, heavier, and harder than their standard equivalents) and labor (materials that can stop bullets are also harder to produce, cut, drill, polish, and install).
- Costs quickly mount as you seek to stop more and bigger bullets. If you don’t need to stop a bazooka, don’t pay for a barrier made to stop a bazooka.
Consider these three “sample” barrier systems:
You already have sturdy (but not bullet-resistant and independently tested) doors, and a building with natural bullet-resistant qualities (e.g., block construction). You add a “buzz thru” access control system and pre-fabricated interior or exterior teller-style transaction window with a built-in tray (for passing papers) and voice communication.
- Good for offices and smaller organizations with a well-understood or minimal threat profile.
- Bad for organizations that have “high traffic” periods when many people need to be checked in, or those facing a very specific, highly motivated, highly organized, or highly aggressive threat profile.
- Cost: $3000–$5000 (plus installation)
You reinforce your existing entryway vestibule by adding a custom transaction window, ballistic interior doors tested to UL standards, an access control system, and any needed fiberglass tested to UL standards to reinforce surrounding walls.
- Good for larger organizations, mental health services, schools (including those with high-traffic periods or a steady trickle of daily scheduled and unscheduled visitors) facing diverse threats (ideologically or economically motivated attackers, potential domestic or workplace violence issues, etc.)
- Bad for organizations with lengthy or unpredictable high-traffic periods, many daily deliveries of bulky items, etc.
- Cost: approximately $10,000 (plus installation)
You have a lobby with a multi-station counter, similar to what you’d see at a county clerk’s office. You install custom bullet-resistant glazing with voice communication and passer trays at each station, in addition to reinforcing counters, and adding at least one bullet-resistant door for workers to access the secure area.
- Good for larger agencies serving many clients, organizations being targeted for robbery, or organizations where the workers might be threatened by clientele.
- Bad for organizations where the clientele is known to be more of a target than the workers or organization itself (in such a case, adding access-controlled bullet-resistant doors to the entryway is advised).
- Cost: $15,000 and up (plus installation)
You secure your entryway with access-controlled bullet-resistant doors, add custom ballistic glazing at the reception desk, reinforce walls with bullet-resistant fiberglass, and replace some exterior windows with Level 4 or higher ballistic glazing with forced-entry and blast-resistant characteristics.
- Good for groups facing very specific, violent threats from highly motivated and hard-to-monitor (i.e., “lone wolf”) attackers; addresses diverse threats (e.g., gunmen, vandalism, explosive devices, high-powered rifles, etc.)
- Bad for groups who have not already invested in a thorough multi-factor threat assessment, and have not already made significant staff training commitments to improve community security protocols overall. (An excellent barrier won’t stop an attack if staff keep leaving the doors open.)
- Cost: $20,000 and up (plus installation)
6. Should We Install Everything At Once?
Ideally, you should completely and appropriately address all of the threats and risks your community faces as soon as possible. In practice, many smaller organizations cannot make all of their physical security improvements in one grand renovation. We often work with smaller organizations to address their security in layers, as fits their needs. For example, an organization may elect to first add access control and a bullet-resistant teller window at reception. The next year, they may replace key exterior windows with bullet-resistant glazing. After that, they may replace the entry doors or add reinforcing fiberglass panels around the doors—and so on.