Demand for Window Film Spikes After Terror Alerts
By Lauren Bayne Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 3, 2004; Page E01
When John Spradling had window film installed in his Oklahoma City real estate office, he did so with the hopes of saving on energy.
But when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed six blocks from Spradling's office, the film protected him from more than a high electricity bill -- it held together shards of glass that may have flown from the window, injuring or killing him. That day in 1995, 800 others in the area suffered injuries from glass, some of them sustained in buildings 18 blocks from the blast.
"I was facing a window that blew out," Spradling said. "There's no doubt in my mind the glass would have blown into my office."
Terrorist attacks including the Oklahoma City bombing and those of Sept. 11, 2001, have spawned increased sales of security window film -- clear or tinted sheets made of polyester and sometimes metals -- applied to windows to prevent breaking glass from explosions and burglaries. In the Washington area, companies are struggling to keep up with the high demand for installation, a demand that intensified after this weekend's terror alerts.
Troy Vlahos, vice president of business development with Baltimore's Energy Management Systems, said the company's phone was ringing steadily yesterday morning, after the federal government raised the terror alert level to orange for the financial services sectors in New York, Washington and Newark.
"With the recent news, we've been hearing feverishly from our clients," Vlahos said. "We heard from a world organization in Washington, D.C., one financial institution, a federal agency and an out-of-state military base."
After the Oklahoma City bombing and the embassy bombings in Africa, the federal government began requiring the film installation on some federal buildings. But after Sept. 11, mainstream commercial buildings also began buying.
"It's essentially a new industry," said Jim Hondroulis, president of Energy Management Systems, which installs security film in the District.
Darrell Smith, executive director of the International Window Film Association, said that prior to the terrorist attacks, sales of security film accounted for 1 to 3 percent of all window film sales, which includes films used for tinting and blocking UV rays. But today, security film accounts for as much as 15 percent of window film sales -- a $1 billion-a-year industry.
There are several types of window film -- decorative film, security film and film that blocks sun and UV rays on buildings and cars. Security film applied to standard commercial plate glass causes it to act similarly to car window glass, which breaks into small pieces rather than dangerous sharp shards. It provides the highest level of protection, but the others may slightly reduce shattering.
Jeff Bradley, U.S. and international business manager for 3M, a security film manufacturer, said terrorists are using glass as a weapon.
"In the embassy bombings in Africa, there were two bombs -- first was a small bomb that drew everyone to the window, then the second one went off and caused all of the damage because of the glass," Bradley said, noting that glass injuries are difficult to treat because the glass is hard to find.
And those injuries can be fatal. Following the 1996 terrorist bombing in Saudi Arabia, a Pentagon report found that 12 of the 19 airmen killed died as a result of glass-cut injuries.
Smith said consultants often will assess a building's risk to determine its needs and risk factors, including how likely a target the building is and proximity to parking lots.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company