The Retrofit Challenge

Security should be part of a building’s plan from day one. But that’s a luxury few businesses have: With so much vacant commercial space on the market, it would be foolish for most new businesses to build their own facility from scratch. Many businesses want to move into established buildings, either for aesthetic reasons or because the location is vital to their operations. Finally, many institutions–especially universities and government agencies–enjoy beautiful historic buildings that it would be a shame to abandon because of evolving security threats. Total Security Solutions has long made it their business to seek out businesses looking to retrofit, and help them avoid the headaches that invariably crop up when a less-experienced bullet proof company tosses up some ballistic glass without understanding the impact these modifications are bound to have on existing structures.


For example, many campus accounts offices or reception areas have plain glass barriers in place. To the uninitiated, it would seem to be a simple job: Pull out the old glass, slide in secure ballistic glass, and call it a day. But that conventional glass is only two or three pounds per square foot, while ballistic glass starts at nearly eight pounds per square foot. Forced-entry rated glass-clad polycarbonate easily weighs in at 15 pounds per square foot, and many transaction windows have areas upwards of five square feet. It’s not unusual for a ballistic glass window, by itself and without any sort of hardware or frame, to weigh 40 to 70 pounds. It’s very unlikely that a historical building’s existing frames, countertops, mullions, and lintels are prepared to handle that weight. In a historic structure, where maintaining the original look and feel is important, it can be quite a challenge to inconspicuously add the needed structural support.

These are concerns that aren’t in the forefront of every bullet proof installers mind, and can lead to major structural problems. Jim Richards, vice president of Total Security Solutions, is often called to assess and repair botched installations: “It happens, you see it; we’ll go back into jobs where the counter is sagging or bowing because there wasn’t any support put in.”

But doing a great job yourself can be its own curse: Hiding those added structural members makes it easy for customers to forget how heavy ballistic glass is when they decide to renovate their offices. This can make for awkward service calls. “Someone will call a few months down the road and say, ‘Something’s happening with our barrier.’ We’ll come and take a look and realize, ‘Well, you removed a load-bearing under-counter cabinet here, and now you have a twelve-foot span with no support.’” Of course it sags; who wouldn’t sag with hundreds of pounds of ballistic glass on his back?


Bullet proof doors offer similar challenges. Even those made of wood with bullet resistant fiberglass paneling–relatively light materials–are going to be significantly heavier than a conventional hollow-core office door once you factor in the weight of the ballistic glass window. Any door wants to pull away from its wall, but this tendency is especially pronounced when that door is eight times heavier. An improperly blocked door (or one that was properly installed, but lost some of its structural support when the property owner embarked an an ill-planned renovation) will want to drift out of square, either sticking, refusing to close, or tending to drift open–undesirable behavior in a door that is mean to secure a space.

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