Big 6 Blog

Why Bullet Resistant Fiberglass Panels?

The ballistic protection requirements are identified in:  Safe Rooms and Shelters, Protecting People Against Terrorist Attacks, FEMA 453, dated May 2006.  On page 2-19 of this FEMA publication, Underwriters Laboratory (UL)  Level 8 is identified as the highest ballistic protection category.  A separate threat analysis for Active Shooter events also identifies Level 8 at the high end of protection required.  The typical firearm “preferred” in Active Shooter events are semi-automatic rifle with rapid exchange of 20- to 30-round magazines.  The AK-47, AR-15 and now the AR-10 all meet this preference.  The AR-10 is the .308 which is the more powerful rifle of these three. So protection from the .308 ball round is needed and that is UL Level 8.

The selection of Bullet Resistant Fiberglass panels as the primary ballistic protection material for the Vault for Active Shooter and Tornado (VAST6) was based upon numerous benefits.  The data sheet states: “The panels are made of multiple layers of woven roving ballistic grade fiberglass cloth impregnated with a thermoset polyester resin and compressed into flat rigid sheets. The production technique and materials used provide the controlled internal delamination to permit the capture of a penetrating projectile.”

The primary advantage of using Bullet Resistant Fiberglass panels is the panel’s ability to capture the bullets, preventing ricochets, and capable of absorbing multiple impacts.  These panels are manufactured with a focus on quality control, resulting in certification to meet its ballistic standards.  These panels actually weigh less than steel panels would for the same ballistic protection, however are higher in costs.  Reducing the ricochets helps reduce further damage to the building structure and makes the environment a little safer for responding law enforcement personnel.

Another distinct advantage of these ballistic panels for our use is no noticeable degradation in cell phone or radio communications signals.  In a steel wrapped vault, communications could be reduced or even blocked.  From a tornado perceptive, building damage could include down electrical wiring and the ballistic panels do not conduct electricity.
Other advantages include effective delay against forced entry, made with non-toxic materials (no formaldehyde), Low wicking ( preventing buildup of mold), and does not spall on inside walls.  As mentioned before, the lighter weight than steel means the overall weight of each panel is less than if the panel was fabricated using steel.

High quality ballistic steel is a good solution in many applications but some applications, especially where people are being protected, an additional effort must be made to ensure personnel safety.  For example, a bullet could hit a “weak spot” on a steel plate and while the bullet does not penetrate the steel plate, another reaction known as “spalling” could occur.  The “spall” can spatter in any direction in the protected area and could injure or cause deadly injuries to personnel.  The easiest solution to address this reaction is the installation of a “spall liner” which is normally a thinner section of the same Bullet Resistant Fiberglass panel and is currently in use in several ballistic protective vehicles.

In the current demonstration model of the VAST6 which is a 5’ by 5’ shelter, the overhead debris rating is 500 tons which is important during a tornado event.  Much of the vertical strength of the shelter is in the ballistic panel material.  At the same time, debris will be hitting the shelter and ballistic panels from many directions but will not penetrate due to the woven and overlapping nature of the production procedure.

The Bullet Resistant Fiberglass panels, in my opinion, gives the best performance and in the long run gives a better cost benefit for all the reasons previously discussed.

U.S. Patent D864418 | International Patents Applied For

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