Failures: Mitigating active shooter attacks

Southern Methodist University’s Anita and Truman Arnold Dining Commons features curtain wall, storefront, and security entrance systems.

School districts are expected to provide more than a place where children learn. Today’s schools also must prioritize wellness and safety. Modern educational facilities are constructed to maximize the benefits of daylight through large expanses of glass, while ensuring high-performance that allows for emergency egress in a fire, protection in a hurricane, or resilience in an earthquake. Parents, school officials, teachers, staff, and facility managers increasingly are asking whether their buildings are failing to take all the precautions available to mitigate shooting incidents.

According to the Center for Homeland Defense and Security’s K-12 School Shooting Database, during 2021 alone, U.S. schools had experienced more than 200 shooter incidents. Education Week also reported during the last four years, 2021 had most shootings that took place while school was in session on school property, or during a school-sponsored event. Not including the person firing the weapon, a total of 34 active shooter incidents occurred, resulting in 54 people being injured and 14 killed by the end of the year.

The National Safety Security Protection Association (NSSPA) examined 112 active shooter incidents at K-12 schools and found the attacks without hostages lasted an average of eight minutes. During that time, someone is shot on average every 60 seconds.

Security products that help prevent, deter, and protect against an active shooter are always evolving, but the way in which they are tested tends to fall behind. Knowledgeable design and specification professionals understand they should be skeptical of any claim offering a “bulletproof” solution. The achievable goal is to slow down attackers, giving the people inside more time to react, and emergency response teams more time to arrive at the scene and defuse the situation.

Glass can be specified for bullet resistance, and window film added to glass may enhance its ballistic properties. Of course, glass is just one part of a school’s curtain wall, storefront, entrance, or window system. The glazing product is only as strong as the weakest component of the full fenestration assembly. More precise specifications now reference the Shooter Attack Certification Testing method, a rigorous, independent testing process certified by NSSPA to ensure fenestration durability.

Improving upon existing industry standards, the Shooter Attack Certification Testing method adds ballistic testing immediately prior to impact testing. The glass is shot 10 times with an AR15 .223 round. After being shot, the glass is struck twice with a 45.4-kg (100-lb) ram at 67.8 Nm (50-ft-lb). If the ram penetrates the glass before the completion of the two hits, it is considered a failure. If the ram does not penetrate the glass after two hits, impact force is continually increased until a breach occurs. The tested specimen realistically demonstrates how the whole product assembly would perform if an active shooter were to attack.

Specifying fenestration assemblies that meet the Shooter Attack Certification Testing method provides a high-quality, tested product, and more importantly, improves the available life-safety protection within school buildings.

The opinions expressed in Failures are based on the authors’ experiences and do not necessarily reflect that of The Construction Specifier or CSI.

Marc Donahue is the director of agency partners’ programs at EFCO Corporation. He leads the team working in partnership with Armoured One to develop the industry’s first complete fenestration assemblies to successfully pass the Shooter Attack Certification Testing method. Donahue can be reached at mdonahue@efcocorp.com.

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