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How Secure Are School Windows?

Written By: Brad CampbellFebruary 11, 2022

Windows in schools provide many benefits for staff and students. They are also often the only thing between inclement weather or would-be intruders and classrooms.

So, if a flying piece of storm debris impacts a window or a burglar or active threat tries to force entry through a window, the type of glass it’s made of matters.

This article will examine common types of school windows and how they affect school security. It will also provide recommendations on how to improve the safety and security of staff and students through glazing (glass) reinforcement.

school security

Three Common Types of Glass Used for School Windows

The majority of windows in classrooms and other parts of schools are made of one of the three following types of glass:

  1. Annealed glass
  2. Tempered glass
  3. Wired safety glass

Annealed glass school windows

Annealed glass is the standard window glass used for many modern applications, both in homes and commercial facilities. 

Though more durable than older forms of glass, annealed glass is still incredibly fragile. It does not undergo any special treatment to improve its impact resistance or change the way it breaks.

annealed glass school windows

If an annealed window is impacted by a flying branch during a storm or if an intruder hits it with a hammer or another tool, it will break apart very easily into sharp, jagged shards.

As you can probably infer from this information, annealed windows don’t do anything to keep schools secure.

A would-be intruder can easily break a pane of annealed glass to gain entry to a school and steal valuable equipment or, in a worst-case scenario, attempt to harm students and teachers who are inside.

Tempered glass school windows

Tempered glass is a special type of strengthened safety glass. Tempered windows go through a special heat treatment that changes the glass’s chemical properties, which makes it more durable than annealed glass and changes the way it breaks.

However, the primary purpose of tempered glass is to improve human safety — not increase security against threats such as storm damage, forced entry, or active threats.

When tempered glass is shattered, it breaks apart into thousands of tiny, relatively harmless, cubes of glass. You’ve probably seen how car windows break apart, right? Well, that’s tempered glass.

In terms of school security, tempered glass is a good option where student and teacher safety is a concern. If a tempered school window gets broken, it won’t shatter into large, sharp shards that could potentially cause injury.

But, tempered glass does not act as a barrier to forced entry or help schools mitigate storm damage and other risks.

tempered glass for schools

Wired safety glass in schools

The third type of glass commonly used in school is wired safety glass. Wired windows have a layer of fine mesh inside the glass, which helps hold the glass together when broken.

The primary goal of wired glass windows in schools is to provide fire safety because windows won’t explode apart if they are heated up to a breaking point during a school fire.

As with tempered safety glass, wired safety glass is not intended for security purposes, so it won’t keep bad guys out or significantly increase the impact resistance of schoolroom windows.

What Threats Do Schools Face That Can Compromise Windows?

We’ve already touched on the different risks that can potentially affect school security, specifically when windows are not secure enough. These risks include:

  1. Strong windstorms/hurricanes
  2. Forced entry and burglary
  3. Active shooting scenarios

Strong windstorms/hurricanes

The first threat to schools that can affect school security is storms, especially for schools located in Florida and other southeastern US hurricane zones.

During a hurricane or strong windstorm, the biggest threat to any type of building is flying storm debris, which can swiftly smash through a standard or tempered window and leave the building exposed to wind damage, rainwater damage, and even flooding.

Schools should evaluate their risk level for storm damage and put the appropriate storm damage mitigation barriers in place over their windows if necessary.

Forced entry and burglary

Another threat that any school or education facility faces is forced entry and burglary. Schools are full of valuable equipment, such as computers and other electronics, that make them an enticing target for thieves.

Since school windows are often not reinforced in any way against forced entry, all it takes is a couple of blows from a hammer or a pry bar to smash out a window. The thieves can then climb into the school via the broken classroom window and take what they like.

school windows

Active shooting scenarios

The most devastating threat faced by schools across the United States is that of an active threat targeting them, intending to do harm to students and staff inside.

Things like access control doors, video surveillance, and alarms are all great to have and can be effective deterrents to active threats, but there’s one thing they don’t do: create a physical barrier to deny entry.

A violent attacker can simply shoot out or otherwise smash a window and climb into a classroom or reach through and open a locked door from the inside.

What Can Schools Do To Improve Window Security?

Now that you’re aware of the threats to school security, and how vulnerable most school windows are to them, you’re probably wondering what you can do to improve window security in schools?

school window security

Well, the most effective way to harden physical security in schools is by reinforcing their windows and other glazings with some type of security glass or glass-like product.

For the highest level of protection against storm damage and forced entry and burglary, and for effective active threat denial, we highly recommend a polycarbonate security glazing retrofit.

Polycarbonate glazing shields look and feel very close to standard window glass, but they are virtually unbreakable. Depending on how many layers of polycarbonate there are and the shield’s overall thickness, it can even achieve a ballistic rating, meaning it can resist bullets.

Polycarbonate security glazing, such as our ArmorPlast® line, can be retrofitted over existing school windows using the existing framing, with little change to the outward appearance of the building. 

The windows will still continue to provide all the benefits of views, visibility, and natural light, with dramatically improved security — ArmorPlast® fortifies schools, without making them look fortified.

Contact Riot Glass LLC today for more information about how we can help protect your school against real-world security threats or to schedule a consultation and threat assessment.

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