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While natural disasters are, for the most part, unavoidable there are some things that can help better protect those in nature’s way. The recent earthquakes and tsunami in Japan have led to discussions about the role window film can play in mitigating such disasters.

A product like security film can assist in protecting victims during a hurricane or earthquake from shards of glass or the danger of objects entering through broken windows. In the case of Japan, film may not have made any difference during the tsunami’s push, but it may have provided extra protection during the earthquake.

“With Japan’s tsunami, film wouldn’t have been able to do a whole lot because of the force of the water. However, seismic activity is something film has been used for to help mitigate damage,” says Lewis Pitzer, special projects coordinator for American Standard Window Film in Las Vegas, Nev. “We can put the film on and in the event of racking or seismic activity it can help make the glass break safely.”

Breaking safely means that the film will hold the glass shards in place as opposed to becoming possibly lethal projectiles. With the addition of attachment systems film can keep these shards or tempered pieces intact in the window frame and allow for a more secure building envelope.

“There is a benefit to adding film to tempered glass because you might not want to lose that opening. When thinking of contingency planning, if it‘s an area where you need to stay open like an emergency response center or a business corporate headquarters on the trading floor, you still might not want to have a situation where the tempered glass breaks and exits the frame and you are sitting there with open windows,” says Pitzer. “With film and the proper use of an attachment system on two vertical sides it will hold the whole broken piece in place. You will have a membrane that keeps the building envelope contained. That can be very important for a building like a hospital.”

In Japan’s case a variety of buildings could have benefited from the use of film. Film used on school windows can protect children inside. Hospitals and clinics need the ability to remain open and manageable and film can assist with that goal.

“What we found in the Bay Area after the 1989 earthquake was a lot of glass breakage. As widespread as the glass breakage was, there was no way to get everything boarded up,” says Scott Haddock, president and CEO of Glasslock Inc. in Easton, Md. “There was lousy weather for a week after the earthquake and it was really difficult to close up the envelope of all of these buildings. The good thing about film is that, as long as you can keep it in the frames, you can protect the envelope of your facilities.”

“In one case, there was a school system in California where there was a seismic event and they have annealed glass on the building and the glass broke and pieces broke off and went into the desk of the children. The kids weren’t there thankfully, but they realized the hazard and put film up,” says Pitzer.

It’s important for dealers to remember that window film is not a hurricane-proof product. The product can help protect, but there is no guarantee of protection.

“It’s like a bomb blast scenario—typically the target building doesn’t have a lot you can do for it, but the collateral affects. Buildings in the outer-lying areas that weren’t so close to the epicenter. It can minimize the collateral affects of things like broken glass,” says Haddock. “As long as it’s not over-sold it’s an excellent way to mitigate glass fragments in an event whether natural or man-made.”