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Security Window Film Helps Protect Texas Election Office
"The past year has seen a significant increase in threats of violence against election workers, administrators, officials, and volunteers who administer elections for federal, state, and local office in this country," says a U.S. Department of Justice memorandum issued in January 2022.
A survey conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice, founded on behalf of former Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr., revealed that 77 percent of election officials feel threats have increased in recent years and 60 percent said they are concerned that such threats may make it difficult to retain and recruit election workers.
Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen says she concurs with the view that people involved in the public elections process face a more challenging atmosphere. For that reason, officials in Bexar County, Texas, the home of the Alamo, decided to take steps to improve the safety of their election staff and the public.
Security was certainly an ever-present concern in the building where Callanen works in downtown San Antonio. In June 2021, a man with a gun who was said to be under the influence of drugs suddenly barged into the election office with a handgun and said he was being chased and sought a place to hide. To the horror of the elections staff, his wild actions included jumping over a counter. Before any further harm could occur, a SWAT team entered the building and apprehended the man without incident.
While the episode appeared to be a random incident, more recently the building had an exterior window shot out and there have also been threatening verbal exchanges directed at election workers. For Callanen, all of the added stress and safety concerns underscored the need to improve the building's security.
Given the size of the 2015-constructed building and the current environment where election offices may attract people intent on illegal and possibly violent actions, Callanen and county officials had a security assessment made of the 110,000-square-foot glass and brick building.
The purpose-built modern structure is a one-stop-shop for 'democracy in action' containing a print shop, voting areas, a warehouse, training rooms, secured zones, offices, and office staff. Bexar county is the 17th largest county nationally, it includes the City of San Antonio and it has 1,260,488 registered voters.
The security assessment recommended about three dozen improvements to enhance the security of the building, the staff and voters. Key among the suggested items was improving the security of the glass in the structure.
Callanen, who has served the County for 26 years, and the election office team are responsible for running elections, voter registration, election finance reporting, candidate filings, ballot printing, staffing of elections when about 1,200 people are hired, and much more. During an election, about 300 voting sites throughout the county are set-up and run by the office.
With important elections coming up in March 2022, Callanen had discussions on what would be the best and quickest solution for enhancing the security of the many windows on the exterior of the building, as well as glassed-in interior spaces such as voting areas, office windows, and hallway doors.
One consideration was to have shatter-resistant panels installed in place of the new windows. The estimated cost for this work, which would have been more disruptive, was about $500,000. There was also concern it would take quite a bit of time to get the shatter resistant panels ordered and installed. Another option was to change out all of the exterior glass windows and replace them with blast resistant glass at a cost of more than $1 million, but the building's existing framing wouldn't be able to handle the added weight of this type of glass, so that idea was scrapped.
The other consideration recommended by the assessment suggested security window film. A request for bids was quickly issued and local San Antonio window film installation company, Fletch Window Tint, earned the opportunity to install security window film. The company is a woman-owned business founded in 1989 and led by Sally Fletcher, as president, and her husband Kevin who leads the window film installation work.
The exterior of the building has dual pane glass windows. The modern interior has glass entry ways, hallways with glass windows overlooking office staff, glassed in meeting rooms and glass partitions in the voting areas. In short, there are many glass sections and panels throughout the building.
If a bomb was detonated in the area, the impact could be significant. According to a research paper from the United Nations Department of Safety and Security, casualties from explosives are most frequently caused by the fragmentation of structural and other material. Studies on large bombing attacks show that flying glass fragments were responsible for 80 percent of injuries and deaths.
One solution recognized in the UN report is security window film — a high tech, polyester laminate film that is applied on the inside face of a glass panel. It may mitigate the effects of shattering glass inside a building as a result of an external blast or other impact. When properly installed, the report states film forms an almost invisible protective coating or membrane on the interior side of the glass surface. The film is attached to the glass with an aggressive pressure sensitive adhesive. This adhesive is applied to the film at time of manufacture and is protected by a release liner until installed. When stress causes the glass to break, the film can stretch and withstand some or all of the energy generated by the stress. The result is that the broken glass may remain within the framing system preventing shards of glass becoming lethal projectiles.
According to the International Window Film Association guidelines, it is important to know that while security window film adds a layer of safety to glass to help hold it together after impact and reduce the spall effect of a bullet passing through security window film protected glass, no security window film, among its global members, is bullet-proof.
Fletch Window Tint came to the job at the Elections Office with an all hands-on deck approach as getting the security window film installed as quickly as possible was critical. Kevin Fletcher was on hand as was Sally Fletcher along with their team of six installers. Together they completed a multi-layer, security window film installation that is visibly clear and approximately 1/16 inch thick (about the thickness of two driver's licenses stacked together) adhered to the glass. The film is also anchored to the interior window frame with a high-strength attachment system caulk applied to the outer edges of the film and in contact with the frame and glass edges.
The team worked daily while it was business as usual at the election office building. They completed the important project in about nine days, installing more than 10,000 square feet of security film for about $100,000. In addition, the Fletch Window Tint team came up with a novel solution for a long glass hallway that overlooks a large office area with election staffers at their desks. "We installed privacy, or reflective window film along that corridor, so now it's simply a mirrored hall from the perspective of a visitor, but the office staff can still see out, so it's like a two-way mirror," says Kevin Fletcher.
In addition to the added security to the glass in the building, the window film also blocks 99 percent of harmful UV rays that pass through glass from the sun or other light factors. The visibly clear security window film had no noticeable effect on the lightly tinted, dyed glass glass on the exterior dual pane windows, so the installation is invisible to the casual passerby.
Callanen says the professionalism of the Fletch Window Tint team was exceptional, "They worked in a way that was respectful and didn't intrude on our work; they moved things themselves, kept the area neat, cleaned all our glass and moved smoothly throughout our building."
While Callanen is proud to have added a layer of important security to the Elections Building, there is also some nostalgic sentiment. "Part of me has a disconnect with the fact that we have to do these things today, but we are grateful that we are able to, and that now all of us feel safer in this atmosphere of concern about the election process," says Callanen. “I would recommend security window film as it adds peace of mind for any person wanting to freely access what is the foundation of our democracy."
Darrell Smith, is the executive director of the International Window Film Association, a role that he has held for more than 35 years. He represents the interests of the window film industry to the National Fenestration Rating Council, the Glass Association of North America, the Protective Glazing Council International, the Glazing Industry Code Committee, the California Public Utilities Commission and the California Energy Commission, the International Code Committees, and the U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.