The Washington Monument: fortifying a national treasure

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Brian Hanson, Marketing Director at United States Bullet Proofing (USBP) reveals how the iconic Washington Monument is secured using bullet and blast-rated glazing.

New and improved landmark

The Washington Monument, one of the US’ most iconic landmarks, features a state-of-the-art security screening facility designed to ensure the safety and protection of its visitors and the monument itself.

This facility is equipped with several key features that fortify its defenses against potential attacks, making it a model of modern security measures for national monuments.

In 2016, the National Park Service shut down access to the Washington Monument to make way for the construction of the new, advanced security screening center and to enhance the monument’s elevator system.

The cutting-edge facility at the Washington Monument, built from a combination of fortified glass and steel materials, serves as a permanent replacement for the makeshift security unit initially put in place following the events of September 11, 2001.

The security facility, costing $7.785 million, was financed through the annual budget of the Park Service.

However, the funding for the new $3 million elevator was generously provided by David Rubenstein, a billionaire financier and philanthropist from Bethesda, Maryland.

Hardened monument

“The whole security facility is basically just a bullet-resistant, giant glass box,” said Jordan Sandvik, Director of International Operations, US Bullet Proofing.

“There is no standoff perimeter. Anybody can walk up and touch it, so the authorities wanted an extreme level of protection.

“Most other secure buildings are controlled with a standoff perimeter. The Washington Monument is unique.”

Standoff distance is a common term used in the context of blast protection; it is the distance between the surface of the target and the point of detonation.

Enhancing the distance between a structure and the source of an explosion significantly reduces its impact.

Creating a wider buffer is crucial as it results in a rapid decrease in pressure. Security experts favor an approximately 100-foot standoff perimeter around high-risk buildings.

Double skin façade

At the Washington Monument, the security building is designed with a double facade, consisting of two sets of glass walls.

The inner wall is constructed using insulating glass that incorporates an architectural mesh from Pulp Studio to enhance shading and privacy.

For safety measures, the outer wall and entrance doors are equipped with ballistic-resistant glazing.

The intention behind the project at the Washington Monument was to create a completely transparent facade with minimal structural breaks, allowing for unobstructed views.

Consequently, several of the windows are large, featuring span widths of up to 100 inches.

“With a double façade, you have a cavity in between the two façades,” said Oscar I. Echevarria, General Manager at the glazing contractor, Innovo Construction.

“We created thermal models of the entire project.”

Safeguarding history and people

Upon arriving at America’s famous obelisk, visitors initiate their tour with a rigorous airport-style security screening.

Here, they must pass through a metal detector and magnetometer while their personal items undergo a scanning process.

Following this, they make their way into bunker-like doors to enter what is considered one of the most fortified security vestibules in the world.


A mantrap is a security mechanism designed to control access to secure areas through a small, enclosed space with two sets of interlocking doors.

The first set of doors must close and be secured before the second set opens, effectively preventing unauthorized access.

Mantraps are commonly used in high-security environments like banks, data centers and classified military areas to enhance security and prevent piggybacking or tailgating by unauthorized individuals.

The Washington Monument’s ballistic-rated and bomb-resistant security mantrap serves as a critical element of the edifice’s protective measures.

This stronghold-like space ensures the safety of both the visitors and the monument itself against any potential explosive threats or violent acts.

Constructed with blast-rated walls and robust steel doors, the chamber is engineered to localize any blasts and prevent havoc within the historical structure.

The internal walls and transparent elements are specially fortified to neutralize blast forces, while the steel bunker doors are acknowledged for being among the most impenetrable.

Additionally, this secured zone provides access to an armored vigilance room, secured with doors and windows able to withstand forced entries and blasts.

These enhanced security windows are strategically placed to offer vital vantage points.

They allow for comprehensive surveillance over the bunker’s interior, the primary screening checkpoint and the Monument’s external surroundings.

Historic preservation

The significance of the Monument’s preservation during the renovation cannot be understated, both for its historical value and its role in American culture and identity.

Preservation of historical landmarks like the Washington Memorial is not just about maintaining physical structures; it’s about honoring a collective heritage and the ideals these symbols embody.

The Washington Monument, standing tall in the heart of the nation’s capital, serves as a powerful reminder of America’s history and its values.

“It was a very interesting project and there were a lot of details,” Sandvik added.

“We went through a lot of reviews with the blast consultants. We collaborated at length with the architects on how to achieve the look they wanted.

“We worked with the National Park Service, National Trust for Historic Preservation and other stakeholders to address their interests.

“As it is the Washington Monument, there were a lot of eyes on this project.

“There was not a lot of wiggle room to change aesthetics or performance and a lot of review submittals were conducted to achieve the vision.”           

“Innovo Construction tends to do non-typical jobs and it doesn’t get more non-typical than the Washington Monument,” commented Echevarria.

“The blast rating is unique and the doors and windows in the interlock area are designed to the same rating as an 18-inch-thick reinforced concrete wall.

“The technology theory existed, but it had never been done with glass before.”

The renovated and fortified facility provides safety to occupants while maintaining the integrity and beauty of this national landmark for future generations.

Protecting public spaces

In an era where security concerns are increasingly prevalent, the need for effective measures to safeguard public spaces cannot be overstated.

By screening visitors before they enter the monument area, the facility serves as a critical line of defense against potential threats, ensuring a safe environment for everyone.

The presence of such a sophisticated security screening facility instills confidence in visitors, reassuring them that their safety is a top priority.

This not only enhances the visitor experience but also upholds the reputation of the National Park Service as secure and welcoming destinations for national and international guests.

The security screening facility at the Washington Monument stands as a testament to the commitment of the US to protect its historical landmarks and the people who visit them.

Through its advanced security features and strategic importance, the hardened facility plays an essential role in preserving the sanctity and safety of this monumental piece of American history.

This article was originally published in the July edition of Security Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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