Magazine article Risk Management

Through a Glass, Darkly: A Report on Force Protection Equipment

Magazine article Risk Management

Through a Glass, Darkly: A Report on Force Protection Equipment

Article excerpt

A Report on Force Protection Equipment

The author reports on a demonstration intended to distinguish the best in protective glazing for windows--one of the most important elements in saving lives in the event of a bomb attack. The test results were mixed, but the necessity for quality glazing comes through loud and clear.

In the first week of May, just outside of the Washington D.C. Beltway, a series of more than one hundred detonations of up to fifty pounds of high explosives took place to test commercial off-the-shelf force protection equipment designed to mitigate terrorist attack. Some twenty glazing exhibitors subjected their products to the blast range at the Force Protection Equipment Demonstration at Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia. But for all the drama of bombs going off in front of bleachers of officers and other decision makers, the event seemed more focused on salesmanship than safety.

The hosts, a coalition under the sponsorship of the Joint Staff and the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense, Acquisition and Technology, intended to provide an interface between vendors and government agencies that are responding to increased security needs. The blast demonstrations, however, left knowledgeable observers muttering their misgivings about a comparative demonstration with no rules or standards. Many of the glazing vendors demonstrated little more than an eagerness to sell a sense of security, rather than tested and proven blast mitigation products.


In a Washington Post editorial on May 4th, the second day of the demonstrations, retired Admiral and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff William Crowe, who chaired State Department commissions on the embassy bombings in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi in 1998, lamented that three successive administrations, the State Department, the Office of Management and Budget, and Congress have not taken to heart the issue of force protection for buildings that are obvious targets: embassies, military installations and other government properties.

Admiral Crowe's conclusions and recommendations were succinct: Over the long term, target buildings must be set back at distances that preclude or negate the most devastating effects of large vehicular bombs. "The key short-term issue is windows," Crowe wrote. "More than 90 percent of those killed and wounded in Nairobi were victims of flying glass. Even though the embassy windows had a Mylar film coating, every person standing close to a window facing the bomb blast was killed. To our surprise, the State Department asked for $57 million in the emergency supplemental legislation following the August bombings to purchase more Mylar! Our report took strong issue with this decision. We believe that we must move quickly to use the technologically advanced laminated glass in our embassies."

Jay Coupe, who served as Crowe's chief of staff of the Accountability Review Board for the bombings in Africa, has been assessing post-blast environments at embassy bombings since the 1983 Marine barracks tragedy in Lebanon. He attended the blast tests at Quantico, but had misgivings. "If the tests on window glass aren't conducted equally in terms of the structures which hold the specimens and their distance from the bomb, they become meaningless," says Coupe. "When the State Department is making judgments on window treatments, I want to make sure the decisions are based on comparisons of materials that have been tested equally and against rigid standards. Whether the FPED blast demonstrations are formal or not, they give a misleading impression."

There are uniform standards and protocols for testing glass in blast environments. The American Society for Testing and Materials has designed and refined a test regime that effectively replicates a blast environment. Underwriter's Laboratories and the Government Services Administration have also created blast tests, albeit somewhat less rigorous. …

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