Safti First Pitches Glass as Material for Border Wall

January 25th, 2019 by Drew Vass

The debate over a border wall has wreaked havoc on Washington, D.C., lately, single handedly leading to a prolonged government shutdown. And while there’s some consensus over the need for increased border security among democrats and republicans, the nature of that security hangs in contention. So do the costs for deployment. Meanwhile, William O’Keeffe, president and CEO for Safti First, says his company has an idea that could soften the concept of an iron veil between the U.S. and Mexico, while also cutting down on overall expenses for construction:

What if the wall wasn’t a wall at all, but instead a “window?”

It might sound a little like a line from a Dr. Seuss book, or a likely story to be told by a glass provider, but O’Keeffe assures that his company’s idea is a real and viable suggestion. Safti First is a Brisbane, Calif.-based producer of fire-rated glass and framing products, and the company has designed a glass wall with triangular base that O’Keeffe says offers numerous advantages over other iterations, while maintaining compatibility with materials such as steel and concrete.

“The glass would be used wherever aesthetically necessary along the border, such as golf courses and in cities,” O’Keeffe says. “Instead of looking at a solid barrier, people would be able to look through to see what’s on the other side. A solid barrier is uncomfortable.”

To be clear (no pun intended): O’Keefe’s idea isn’t just a publicity stunt. While there are currently no formal requests for statements of qualification from the U.S. government, he’s taking his glass wall design to Washington, where he’s pitching the idea to lawmakers. The proposal includes 1-inch-thick laminated security glass that is bullet-resistant. A single glass lite would be approximately 14 feet 6 inches tall by 7 feet wide, weighing 1,320 pounds. Each unit has two panels. Glass would also be positioned at 45-degree angles to help deflect projectiles. The triangular base, O’Keeffe says, is key, because of its compatibility with other materials. The design can also be easily modified to suit multiple applications.

So far as deployment is concerned, “We are still in the development phase and costing for each configuration is in process,” he says, at the same time assuring, “We are confident our product can be produced and installed for less than traditional construction methods.”

Safti First’s barrier would be built in a controlled, mass production facility, and because of its modular design, it can be simply placed onsite with little to no excavation, says Peter Reid, the company’s vice president of special projects. The 4,600-pound base could be set by a crane or helicopter, he suggests, and then filled with concrete. With glass and supporting hardware and equipment, the total installed unit weight would be approximately 8,000 pounds. Units would be attached to adjacent sections to form a linked barrier, while each would also have a seismic detector to identify tunneling underneath of the wall.

O’Keeffe suggests that his company’s design would turn out to be more cost effective than methods currently under consideration, which include onsite construction and require placing rebar and concrete six feet into the ground. Another benefit he cites includes the ability for his company’s panels to be placed in marshy areas and, since there’s no construction involved, that would mean less disruption of earth, he suggests. Units would also solve the need for distributed power, he says, by including technology such as 24-volt batteries that charge via solar panels, to fuel lights and cameras. Those panels could also be used to charge drones, deployed to patrol remote areas. And while glass, by nature, is difficult to traverse, Safti First’s design also allows for possible anti-climb features.

“This is exactly the same technique used by ranchers to keep livestock away from fences,” Reid explains. “It is a brief high voltage pulse that would make it unpleasant to grab onto. If utilized this system would be deployed under the direction of the security team.”

And while the latter option might sound a bit inhumane to proponents of no wall, O’Keeffe’s company has one final feature to offer—one that marks a soft departure from current, iron-clad options: In the true spirit of fenestration, the design allows for portions of the glass wall to be opened remotely, in order to permit wildlife or people to pass through as needed.

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