The Importance of Airport Design and Glazing Systems

The Importance of Airport Design and Glazing Systems

As recent events in Kenya have shown, both fire and terrorist attacks are potent threats to be assessed and comprehensively guarded against. With regular rehearsals, it can be ensured that response teams can adequately deal with any emergency.

The Importance of Airport Design and Glazing SystemsKenya has been in the news a lot lately, and not for the right reasons. On September 21, the Westgate shopping mall was attacked by Somali militants, and at least 67 people were killed in the massacre. And in August, a major fire at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi brought more media attention to the region. Both of these incidents are shocking reminders that any building can become a place where people’s lives can be in danger, whether from a terrorist attack or as a result of a fire.

That security threat is a real and common occurrence at airports, which can have a pivotal role in regional or national economies and, for the terrorists, significant news value. Therefore, airports have seen the greatest investment in security and building research. However, the threat is not confined to larger hub airports. The 2007 attack at Glasgow airport underlines how terrorism can be national or local, meticulously planned for maximum effect or simply opportunistic.

But it would be simplistic to consider airport security purely in terms of terrorist threats. Other threats exist, such as the aforementioned fire at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta airport. The catastrophic fire, most likely started by faulty wiring, demonstrates how a major infrastructure asset can quickly become a national liability.  The airport was built in an age before modern fire regulations and protective systems were available or required. As a result of the fire, the airport was extensively damaged and a vital transport gateway was closed off. Remarkably, there were no casualties.

The Nairobi fire is a stark reminder of the importance of identifying every conceivable threat, that strategies to deal with them are robustly examined, and emergency procedures routinely tested. Sadly, that wasn’t the case in Nairobi with its aged infrastructure, inadequate emergency equipment and poor response planning.

Countering those threats starts with a comprehensive assessment of the likely (or unlikely) risks an airport might face in terms of an accidental or deliberate interruption to its operations.  Modern building safety is largely determined by taking a multi-disciplinary approach to assessing those hazards from power failure to cyber attack, from civil disorder to fire and explosive detonation. 

For an airport, other factors might have to be considered such as the kind of threat specific to that country or region, to the airlines that make use of the facility.  While terrorism is often a blunt instrument involving random carnage, it can also be targeted more specifically.

There are a number of assessment methodologies to understand the potential threats, identify the assets to be protected, and how best to mitigate against those risks.  That assessment then guides the design team in determining acceptable risks and the cost-effectiveness of the measures proposed, both airside and landside.

The UK has been at the forefront of airport safety, largely because of the historical threats posed by Irish terrorists which included mortar bombs being fired onto the runway at London Heathrow in 1994.  The bombs failed to detonate but underlined how airport security is an issue that has to be considered outside, not just inside, the airport’s perimeter.

That is the airport designer’s conundrum: how to build a facility able to safely handle large numbers of people, while making their experience as hassle-free as possible.  Official guidance now covers all of an airport’s critical functions from security checks on passengers to aircraft hold baggage, from the location of car parks to the glazed elements in the building’s design.  The guidance also includes the design of areas immediately outside terminal buildings to create an exclusion zone for unauthorized vehicles. 

In the United States, the Office of Airport Safety and Standards has primary responsibility for all airport program matters related to standards for airport design, construction, maintenance, operations and safety.

Stand-off distance is an important consideration.  A bomb detonating at seven meters from the terminal façade will, depending on the size of the bomb and type of explosive, generate blast pressure of up to one ton per square foot.  At 30 meters, blast pressure falls to one-tenth of a ton per square foot – within building regulation parameters on structural integrity.

The Importance of Airport Design and Glazing SystemsModern building design, in airports and elsewhere, now makes extensive use of glass.  It brings in ambient light and creates a more pleasant interior environment. The extensive use of glass has come about as a result of investment in innovation, both to develop new laminated glass types and framing systems able to withstand blast pressure, as well as to accurately evaluate those systems using a variety of assessment and computational tools. 

That’s why it’s important to choose a company that is closely involved in that process of development such as designing and testing exterior and interior glazing systems and doors that are able to withstand explosive blast pressures and, of course, to guard against fire, smoke and toxic gases for up to 120 minutes.  

Some companies conduct live bomb testing to further ensure the capabilities of their products.  It’s also good practice to specify the glass and framing as one unit. In a real fire or terrorist situation, the glass will only be as protective as its frame, and vice versa.

As recent events in Kenya have shown, both fire and terrorist attacks are potent threats to be assessed and comprehensively guarded against. With regular rehearsals, it can be ensured that response teams can deal with any emergency adequately. That multi-dimensional approach extends across the built environment, developing next-generation products and systems to guarantee new levels of fire and terrorist protection.  The specialist glass and glazing industry remains at the forefront of that innovative research process. 


  • 12 Commercial Crime Sites to Do Your Research

    12 Commercial Crime Sites to Do Your Research

    Understanding crime statistics in your industry and area is crucial for making important decisions about your security budget. With so much information out there, how can you know which statistics to trust? Read Now

  • Boosting Safety and Efficiency

    Boosting Safety and Efficiency

    In alignment with the state of Mississippi’s mission of “Empowering Mississippi citizens to stay connected and engaged with their government,” Salient's CompleteView VMS is being installed throughout more than 150 state boards, commissions and agencies in order to ensure safety for thousands of constituents who access state services daily. Read Now

  • Live From GSX: Post-Show Review

    Live From GSX: Post-Show Review

    This year’s Live From GSX program was a rousing success! Again, we’d like to thank our partners, and IPVideo, for working with us and letting us broadcast their solutions to the industry. You can follow our Live From GSX 2023 page to keep up with post-show developments and announcements. And if you’re interested in working with us in 2024, please don’t hesitate to ask about our Live From programs for ISC West in March or next year’s GSX. Read Now

    • Industry Events
    • GSX
  • People Say the Funniest Things

    People Say the Funniest Things

    By all accounts, GSX version 2023 was completely successful. Apparently, there were plenty of mix-ups with the airlines and getting aircraft from the East Coast into Big D. I am all ears when I am in a gathering of people. You never know when a nugget of information might flip out. Read Now

    • Industry Events
    • GSX

Featured Cybersecurity


New Products

  • Luma x20

    Luma x20

    Snap One has announced its popular Luma x20 family of surveillance products now offers even greater security and privacy for home and business owners across the globe by giving them full control over integrators’ system access to view live and recorded video. According to Snap One Product Manager Derek Webb, the new “customer handoff” feature provides enhanced user control after initial installation, allowing the owners to have total privacy while also making it easy to reinstate integrator access when maintenance or assistance is required. This new feature is now available to all Luma x20 users globally. “The Luma x20 family of surveillance solutions provides excellent image and audio capture, and with the new customer handoff feature, it now offers absolute privacy for camera feeds and recordings,” Webb said. “With notifications and integrator access controlled through the powerful OvrC remote system management platform, it’s easy for integrators to give their clients full control of their footage and then to get temporary access from the client for any troubleshooting needs.” 3

  • A8V MIND

    A8V MIND

    Hexagon’s Geosystems presents a portable version of its Accur8vision detection system. A rugged all-in-one solution, the A8V MIND (Mobile Intrusion Detection) is designed to provide flexible protection of critical outdoor infrastructure and objects. Hexagon’s Accur8vision is a volumetric detection system that employs LiDAR technology to safeguard entire areas. Whenever it detects movement in a specified zone, it automatically differentiates a threat from a nonthreat, and immediately notifies security staff if necessary. Person detection is carried out within a radius of 80 meters from this device. Connected remotely via a portable computer device, it enables remote surveillance and does not depend on security staff patrolling the area. 3

  • Connect ONE’s powerful cloud-hosted management platform provides the means to tailor lockdowns and emergency mass notifications throughout a facility – while simultaneously alerting occupants to hazards or next steps, like evacuation.

    Connect ONE®

    Connect ONE’s powerful cloud-hosted management platform provides the means to tailor lockdowns and emergency mass notifications throughout a facility – while simultaneously alerting occupants to hazards or next steps, like evacuation. 3