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Building Cleared of Glass Danger

When the National Geographic Society was founded in Washington, D.C., in 1888, the White House had no electricity and the Washington Monument had just opened to the public. Today, the headquarters stands in a more complicated world, and that includes new threats, such as a potential terrorist bombing of nearby targets like the Russian Embassy and the White House. The building has changed with the times. Most recently, Chief Building Engineer Richard Neal took steps to harden the facility against an explosion in the vicinity and prevent injuries from broken glass.

The first floor of the Society's ten-story complex houses the employee and Society member cafeteria, the National Geographic television production studio, the National Geographic museum, and the auditorium. The walls of the first floor include more than 100 floor-to-ceiling, half-inch plate-glass windows. More than 100,000 visitors enter the complex each year to view museum exhibits and attend lectures and cultural performances. In the event of a large-scale explosion or other disaster, the glass in the windows could shatter, posing a serious threat to anyone in the vicinity.

"We looked at it as a safety issue. We thought it would be a good idea--at least on the first floor where the half-inch plate glass exists--that we try to bond that to prevent injuries," Neal says.

Because of financial and administrative constraints, the Society decided not to replace the windows, preferring a product that could be applied to the existing windows but would still offer the same benefits as safety glass. After evaluating a few products, Neal chose Armorcoat window coverings from Bekaert Specialty Films.

Armorcoat safety and security window film is a thick barrier film that is adhered to existing windows to reinforce the glass. The films are made from high-tensile polyester and are available in thicknesses ranging from 4 to 14 millimeters, with the thicker version offering more protection. If a window that is equipped with Armorcoat is broken, the layers of polyester will hold the broken shards in place.

The films are available in both tinted and clear styles. National Geographic has installed both types, using the tinted version on windows that receive the most sun exposure.

The Society had previously installed another of the company's products, Bekaert solar films, on more than 1,500 upper-level windows that were exposed to extended periods of sunlight as an energy conservation measure. Because the Society had previous experience with Bekaert, they were comfortable with the company's products. Moreover, Neal knew that the safety film had been installed on several government buildings including the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, and FBI headquarters.

Installation of the film, which is made of optical-quality polyester that is bonded to the window using an adhesive that is virtually unnoticeable, required little effort by employees and building management, Neal says. The area around the window simply had to be cleared to allow the installer access. The windows were dampened with a soapy solution. The installer then peeled the film from its backing and stuck it to the window. To finish the process, air bubbles were smoothed out using a squeegee. The entire procedure took minutes per window.

Although Neal has never had a protected window break, the manufacturer has tested the product independently with Applied Research Associates, Inc. (ARA) to affirm its strength. ARA detonated the equivalent of 500 pounds of TNT 60 yards from two framed glass samples, one with and one without the film. The unprotected glass shattered and projected upon impact, while the Armorcoat glass remained within the frame. (This film is not designed to protect a building from a direct car bomb attack.)

Once the Armorcoat film has bonded (usually after two months) a window can be cleaned just as any other window. According to Neal, maintenance has not been a problem.

Overall Neal is impressed with the products and says, "Every window we installed it on looks like the day it was installed." According to Neal, the installation of Armorcoat has made the National Geographic complex safer and he feels comfortable knowing that if a disaster occurs, the threat of flying glass has been significantly reduced.

(For more information: Bekaert Specialty Films, LLC; phone: 800/282-9031)

--By Marta Roberts, staff editor of Security Management