Trial By Fire:
Demonstrating the Intrusion Prevention Abilities of Impact Resistant Glass
The silence of a cool November morning was broken by the sound of gunfire. Five shots rang out from an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. The rounds, fired in quick succession, each slammed into a glass door. However, instead of collapsing into a pile of broken shards the door remained an impassable barrier. The assailant followed up with several well-placed kicks – his foot deflecting harmlessly away.
Not to be deterred, the attacker reached for a 3-lb demolition hammer and pounded at the barrier. Despite the heavy blows, the passageway remained securely closed. Growing frustrated with his inability to enter, the attacker tried kicking the door again – hoping that his previous attempts had weakened it enough to get an effect. Just as before, the door resisted his efforts, denying his entry.
If this had been a real attack, the door would have given anyone inside precious minutes to call for help and seek shelter. Thankfully, this attack was just a simulation conducted at the Richland County Sheriff’s Department training facility, with Captain Dominick Pagano playing the role of the attacker.
The takeaway, however, was clear: with the right materials and installation techniques, even a glass door can keep a well armed and highly motivated attacker at bay.
A Tale of Two Glass Doors: Tragedy and Security
There is no single event that motivated today’s test. but instead it was in response to the average of over 600 mass shootings that have occurred every year. In many of these attacks, the perpetrator was able to forcibly enter locked buildings simply by destroying the glass doors which barred their way.
For Randy Wright, the owner of Century Commercial Glass Systems, one particular event is hard to forget. He recalls watching the news coverage of the Covenant School Shooting in disgusted frustration with seeing how the school’s locked glass doors only slowed the attacker by mere seconds – with the pane crumbling uselessly onto the ground after being shot.
With over three decades of experience installing commercial glass doors and windows, Randy had enough experience working with glass to know that this was not an inevitable outcome. There are several brands of intrusion resistant glass on the market which would have almost certainly prevented the attacker from gaining access to the school. However, there is a catch: these name brand intrusion resistant glass products command a price premium and are often out of reach of smaller private schools, churches, and businesses.
Could there be an alternative solution that offers more accessible protection? The Century Commercial Glass Systems team had installed just such a material at a liquor wholesaler in Charleston, South Carolina: impact resistant glass designed to protect against objects thrown by hurricane-force winds.
While not intended to be intruder resistant, the Charleston riots in May 2020 showed that these glass panels can be a highly effective barrier. Even as the crowd of looters hammered at the glass with nearby objects including large ceramic planters and fire extinguishers, the glass held firm. Ultimately the rioters were forced to move on, with the building’s interior remaining unbreached.
The difference between the glass at the Covenant School, and many institutions like it across the country, and the building attacked in Charleston comes down to materials. Traditional tempered glass shatters into tiny pieces, and standard laminates lack the strength to offer meaningful resistance against attack.
This particular impact resistant glass, on the other hand, uses a laminate design similar to car windshields, with a layer of ionoplast polymer (super strong and rigid) sandwiched between two sheets of glass. Importantly, the cost of the hurricane resistant glass used in Charleston was only a fraction of what many of the branded intrusion resistant products would have cost.
While this was anecdotal evidence showing that impact resistant glass could keep an angry mob at bay, a question remained: could this more obtainable product possibly prevent future tragedies like the one at the Covenant School?
The idea was compelling – particularly given the ready availability and affordability of impact resistant glass when compared to specialty intrusion resistant products. However, the question still needed to be answered: would impact resistant glass present a meaningful obstacle for an active shooter determined to attack?
The Century Commercial Glass Systems team contacted Captain Steven Tapler of the Richland County Sheriff’s Department and asked him if his officers would be willing to test the protection offered by impact resistant glass. Captain Tapler was enthusiastic about the idea, and saw it as an opportunity for his officers to gain experience breaching this type of glass, as well as hopefully identifying a widely available product that could help keep his community safe. The Captain contacted Sheriff Leon Lott who approved the idea.
Designed to Stop A Hurricane – But How Far Does That Protection Go?
The Century Commercial Glass Systems team installed two of these impact resistant glass panels into standard aluminum storefront door frames, and brought them out to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department training grounds. Their training facilities are deep in the woods outside of town, in an undisclosed location, and have a variety of structures in place to allow officers to learn the techniques for safely entering buildings.
Captain Pagano leads the department’s training division and has served as a SWAT-team tactical commander – making him a perfect candidate for testing the retrofit glass doors against intrusion.
Despite the serious nature of the test, the atmosphere was light-hearted as the first door was being installed. A bright-yellow cake was set up on a chair just inside the doorway to serve as the Captain’s objective.
With drones in the air and cameras running, Captain Pagano announced he was “Going Hot” and stepped up to the door. In his first attempt he fired five shots from an AR-15, a civilian version of the M-16 assault rifle and a common choice for mass-shooters. He followed up with several heavy kicks from his booted feet and blows from a 3-lb sledge hammer intended to simulate striking the glass with the butt of his rifle. The glass panel held in place.
The second door was installed and Captain Pagano once again tried to breach it. This time he was armed with a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with double-ought buckshot. These extremely powerful 3-inch long shells are filled with 9 lead balls, each of which is as large as a 9mm bullet. Even after firing 7 of these huge shells into the door and following up with 16 heavy kicks, this new glass panel also remained impassable.
The Results? There Are Economical Options Which Can Slow Attackers Down & Buy Valuable Time
During the test, each attack lasted several minutes and even after a hole was made, Captain Pagano was unconvinced that he could get through it without being seriously cut in the process. If this had been a real attack, anyone inside would have had valuable time to call 911 and seek shelter deeper within the building.
It is important to note that impact resistant glass is not bullet resistant. The bullets themselves will pass through – but the attacker is left on the outside of the building. And, unlike bullet resistant glass installations which require specialized frames and can cost over ten thousand dollars, the product and installation costs for impact resistant glass doors starts at just $1,700.
While we can’t turn back the clock, we can do better in the future. With impact-resistant glass panels that can be retrofit into many standard commercial window frames or doorways, our schools, government buildings, offices, and even retail stores can be protected from the senseless violence of heavily armed attackers.
We’d like to thank the officers at the Richland County Sheriff’s Department for their time and support in conducting this test. The products used in this test were installed and paid for exclusively by Century Commercial Glass Systems – and this test was performed entirely independently of the glass manufacturer who does not explicitly rate their product for intrusion-resistance.