Classroom safety has become a hot topic in recent years due to increased cases of mass shootings. As such, there has been a concern on the role that school doors play in keeping student safe. While most institutions have resorted to the installation of door barricade devices, security experts say that there are better ways to deter attackers, especially in institutions fitted with glass doors.
School safety is a matter of concern for all players in the education sector. In a country where mass shootings in schools, churches, and other social places are at an all-time high, legislations have been put in place to curb such disastrous acts. Particularly, lawmakers have been working on making schools safer for the students.
Glass Doors in Schools
Doors and locks should be code compliant. They should meet the requirements as per the International Building Code, National Fire Protection Association Life Safety guidelines, and the American with Disabilities Act regulations. In recent years, better devices for school doors have been implemented as a response to the tragic incidents of mass shootings that occur from time to time.
Schools have fast adopted safer glass doors and locks to prevent shooters from entering classrooms. Given the rising numbers of tragic incidents, various deterrent devices and locks serve as school shooting stoppers as they keep such attackers out of the class. This, in turn, helps to buy time for police and medical officers to arrive on the scene.
While barricades have raised several life-safety concerns, glass doors and sidelights have presented a better shot at keeping students safe in school. Unlike the traditional door lock devices, glass doors are now fitted with locking devices that adhere to the stipulated code requirements.
Here are some of the major concerns that govern doors and locks in schools:
- Free egress
- Fire protection
According to the International Building Code (IBC), free egress means that anyone exiting a room or building may do so without obstruction or delay. Various levels of egress, including delayed and controlled egress, may be used in healthcare facilities and in cases where there is a need for human or device evaluation.
School doors and locks are supposed to be code-compliant, and barricades are not. The use of these door locking devices has therefore evoked mixed reactions, given their effectiveness and violation of safety codes all at once. Glass doors for schools could also be great for deterring attackers, especially when reinforced.
Much to their defense, statistics show that no attacker or shooter has ever gone beyond such barricaded doors. It is for this reason that schools in Ohio and other states have favored the installation of better glass and security screens for school doors. The use of code-compliant door locking devices has also proven to be effective at keeping students safe from shooters and intruders.
Opponents of barricade use in school doors have raised serious issues over the safety of students, especially in the event of an evacuation. Since barricades are fitted on both inward and outward-opening doors, there may be a need for intervention by staff to open a classroom door in the case of an evacuation. In such cases, students may remain “trapped” in classrooms, which may leave them vulnerable to other safety threats.
Another concern that arises from the use of door barricade for schools is accessibility. It’s a concern that keeps students with special needs in mind. While door locking devices should meet the standards put in place for accessibility, a school door barricade makes it almost impossible for students with special needs to access corridors in case of a lockdown.
Installation of a classroom door lockdown device such as a barricade not only curtails the accessibility of students to the outside or safer areas but also delays the entry of officials who arrive to offer help. Locking devices such as active shooter door wedges may also be effective at keeping out attackers but may also be detrimental to the accessibility of the students to safer areas in the case of an attack.
Most of the improvised active shooter door stops, such as barricades, severely violate the existing building codes, accessibility requirements, and safety recommendations. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), all door hardware in schools and other public buildings should meet the following requirements:
- Be operable with one hand, without using too much effort such as twisting of the wrist and tight grasping of handles.
- Be released fully in a single operation.
- Mounting of such hardware should be done 34-48 inches above the floor.
Apart from shooting incidents, fires are also known to cause a considerable risk to students whenever they occur. As such, the decision to barricade classroom doors has seen substantive criticism considering the threat posed in the event of a fire incident. So, do these locking devices violate the fire and safety codes? Yes, they do! According to the National Fire Protection Association, most of the auxiliary door locking devices implemented in most schools violate the fire and life safety codes.
According to the fire and safety codes, classroom doors must allow:
- Free egress from the classroom;
- Unlocking of the door from outside the classroom using a key or any other applicable credential;
- Unlocking the door from the inside without a key, special effort or knowledge or any other separate unlocking tool;
- Opening the door from the inside without excessive gripping or turning of the lock, upholding the ADA code of accessibility.
NFPA also has requirements for secondary security and lock devices put in place, especially those that are installed in educational institutions. For the safety of students during shooting or fire incidences, barricading and retrofitted locking devices must meet the following requirements:
- They must not require opening the door for use;
- Must provide an unlocking mechanism at the same height of level handles or any other latch release hardware;
- Must not interfere with the factory-made panic hardware or door closer;
- Can be unlocked from inside the classroom even when it is engaged remotely;
Concerning the NFPA regulations, a general rule of thumb that applies is that an auxiliary school door security device cannot obstruct or block free egress along a fire exit. As such, students must be able to evacuate safely in emergencies. Similarly, first responders to such situations must also gain easy access for the protection and care of students.
School doors with sidelights require extra security measures to prevent the entry of attackers. While sidelights make classrooms vulnerable to forced entry by attackers, the security window film slows down the break-in process and allows time for emergency teams to arrive. Though it is not bullet proof, Campbell security window film holds glass in place and ensures that attackers can’t access the lock from the inside. Security window film for the door glass also gives time for students to exit or barricade the classroom. Overall, the window film deters or slows entry by an attacker and therefore increases the chances of survival for students.
When it comes to retrofitting of school doors, fabricating school glass doors using Riot glass guarantees security of students in classrooms. Unlike the standard glass, which hardly stands a rock or a bullet, Riot glass is unbreakable and prevent forced entry and bullet entry. It is therefore essential that the standard glass on school doors be replaced with Riot glass to prevent attackers from forcing their entry into classrooms.
Security screens are high-tensile meshes of stainless steel and aluminum. They are used to secure doors and windows and therefore come in handy in preventing attacks. The Campbell security screen is a stainless-steel mesh coated with black powder, which makes it tough enough to resist heavy tools such as sledge hammers and crow bars.
These security screens also come with tamper-resistant hinges and a triple locking mechanism that form a secure barrier. School doors fitted with the Campbell security screens therefore have a strong barrier to keep attackers away.
Steps to Making Locking Devices Safer
The Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association is constantly working with other bodies and stakeholders to address life safety issues. Among the steps being taken is highlighting the risks surrounding the use of ad hoc door barricades as well as reviewing the safety codes, building codes, and fire codes. Some of the clauses in the International Building Code of 2018 that are under review include the following:
1010.1.4.4.1 – Remote lock operation
Remote lock operation compliant to the IBC code 1010.1.4.4 shall be allowed. This will apply in all K-12, university, and college classrooms as well as offices.
1031.2.2 – Locking devices in educational premises
In Group B, E, and Group 1-4 child daycare institutions, egress doors shall be provided with locking mechanisms to keep intruders at bay. Locking arrangements should, however, meet the following conditions:
– The door should be unlocked from the outside using a key or any other approved means.
– The door should also be openable from the inside.
– Approved door closing mechanisms, panic hardware, and fire door hardware shall not be modified.
– Any modifications to fire assembly doors shall be in line with the NFPA 80 code.
School door barricades have lately emerged as the best way of retrofitting school doors in a bid to keep attackers away from classrooms for student safety. Most players have, however, raised genuine concerns over the use of ad hoc devices to barricade doors. Free egress, fire protection, and accessibility are some of these concerns, and the modification of school doors must, therefore, be as per the stipulated codes and regulations.