PGC Fall Symposium Underway Today in Washington D.C.

The Protective Glazing Council (PGC) Fall Symposium got underway today at the Ronald Regan Building and International World Trade Center in Washington D.C., with an impressive list of speakers beginning with Major General Charles Williams of the Department of State Overseas Building Operations (OBO).

Williams took to the podium at 8:30 a.m., discussing the new construction program with the OBO and recapping the design and construction of new embassies and consulates around the world. With 36 new embassies and consulates open since 2001 and 40 more being built, Williams explained how the job is getting done. Part of the efficiency of the building comes from the principals of performance, accountability, discipline and credibility as stressed by the current Secretary of State Condoleezaa Rice.

"This is what gives the organization the legs it has today," Williams said. "The world is in a very unsettled situation at the moment and because of that it makes our job tougher."

Embassies, Williams explained, are established anywhere the U.S. has citizens working.

"Pick anywhere in the world and we have something for you. We're not in pretty locations now because our people are where the action is and we have to go there and set things in place," he said, before showing a series of photos from different embassies around the world.

"When you hear 'embassy' you hear a lot of things and you know we have to secure the building. You may hear words like 'fortress' or 'bunkers,' but when I give these presentations, I try to clarify what we're doing," Williams said.

He explained that generally the OBO purchases ten acres of land at one time and prefers to build horizontally. They try to keep the buildings to three stories, so as not to overshadow the tallest buildings in the city or draw attention to the facility. The designs don't shy away from glass either; several new embassies, including the one in Armenia, have atriums in the entrance. When asked his opinion of the buildings reflecting the philosophy of the United States, Williams indicated that he felt they already did-the buildings expressed openness without compromising the local flavor.

"There are a lot of misconceptions about what presents a building. What presents a building is what you first see when you open your eyes and when you walk into the building. When you enter an embassy today, you don't see America. You see the host country décor. When people in Kenya [visit] the embassy in Nairobi, they see the American flag, but they walk in and see bamboo floors, not oak. They can relate to that," he said. He added that local laborers are hired to do the building, which also adds to the economy-and the organization always replants indigenous trees.

The tone of the conference changed a bit when Buck Revell of the Revell Group made his presentation immediately following Williams' speech. Revell spoke about terrorism, its causes and the changes of which companies offering protective services should be aware. Specifically, he pointed out that terrorist plots against the United States are not new and should not have been a surprise.

The United States has been a target of Islamic terrorists since 1979 when the Ayatollah Khomeini came out of exile, he explained. Since that time-the same time the group Hezbellah was created-terrorist groups have blatantly expressed the desire to take down the United States.

"It should not have been a surprise to us when on 9/11 the U.S. was attacked so successfully by a group that had been telling us, loudly and clearly for a long time, that they were out to get us."

Complicating the problem is the nature of terrorism.

"It's not a war. Terrorism is a tactic. It's a tactic used to disrupt a society for political or other purposes," Revell said. At this point he reassured his audience as much, as it could be reassuring at the point, that Al-Qaeda and the Taliban have been primarily contained.

The bigger threat now, he explained is "more the lone wolf operations that are energized by propaganda and … religious fervor. That is the most difficult type of terrorism to stop. If you don't have a target, it's hard to penetrate."

He stressed that terrorism can come in many forms.

"It's equally a concern with homegrown terrorists who may be second or third generation people born here who have gotten caught up with the religious fervor. McVeigh was not an Islamic terrorist … but he had a target of the U.S. government and [blew up] a building that had nothing to do with his cause but that he saw as a representative of it. Homegrown terrorists, whatever their reasons, will continue to be the threat," Revell said. "This is not a two or three-year episode we're dealing with. We'll be dealing with it for the next two, three, maybe four generations."

He stressed that jihadists are not mainstream Muslims.

"Mainstream Islam in many parts of the world is intimidated because they've become targets if they speak out against or criticize the extremists. It's not unusual for those who speak out to be targeted even before the U.S. Those who do speak out should be afforded as much support and face time by our media. We should support those who are jeopardizing themselves by speaking out against the extremists," he said.

After a short break, attendees returned to listen to a presentation by Dean C. Alexander, in which he discussed new potential targets for blast events and what businesses can and are doing to mitigate the potential for danger in these areas. Alexander, professor of Homeland Security at Western Illinois University and author of Terrorism and Business: The Impact of September 11, 2001, expanded upon Revell's presentation stressing the involvement and cooperation needed between the private and public sector in working to prevent terrorist attacks.

He also spoke to the changes in modus operandi of terrorist attacks-the use of people considered outside the "traditional" terrorist profile, such as women and children, or staging attacks geared toward greater casualties or using drastically different weapons or methods. He gave a general overview of targets that aren't on the forefront of people's minds such as retail areas and medical facilities.

The seminar continues this afternoon with presentations by:

  • Jamie Gascon of the Miami-Dade County Building Code Compliance Department, on hot topics in Florida;

  • John Talkington of the Smithsonian Institution, with a presentation titled "A Real World Implementation of A Protective Glazing Program; and

  • Bill Koffel of Koffel and Associates discussing the common ground between protective glazing and fire-rated glazing technology.

Look for a recap of the afternoon seminars as well as tomorrow's synopsis in tomorrow's addition of usgnn and the December issue of USGlass magazine.

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