by Lori Greene, DAHC/CDC, CCPR, FDAI, FDHI
In the wake of any tragedy, society struggles collectively to process the loss. For some, it is the loss of friends and loved ones, but for most, it is the feelings of safety and trust that are diminished. In their place, is an overwhelming desire to do something to prevent it from ever happening again.
The reaction to some tragedies, such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 or the Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire in 1942, resulted in sweeping changes to fire and life-safety codes that have unquestionably saved lives and prevented an incalculable number of similar events. However, in response to the horror of more recent school shootings, the urge to take action motivated some school districts to enhance the security of classroom doors with barricade devices—many of which not only violate current code requirements, but could also result in increased risk and liability.
By definition, ‘barricade’ means, “to block (something) so people or things cannot enter or leave.” Most codes require doors in a means of egress to provide free passage at all times, which allows building occupants to evacuate quickly if necessary. Some proponents of barricade devices suggest because the device is intended for use only when an active shooter is in the building, securing the door takes priority over allowing safe evacuation. Those on the other side of the debate believe because there is no guarantee the device will only be employed under these limited circumstances, it could be misused, preventing authorized access by staff and emergency responders, as well as delaying or preventing egress.
Over the past few years, this argument has raged across the nation, with code officials caught in the middle, struggling to ensure life safety is not compromised in the rush to enhance classroom security. As a result, there are several model code changes in progress that will affect product selection and specification for doors in K–12 schools, colleges, and universities. However, many state and local jurisdictions are already implementing their own policies and some of the security devices currently being installed or requested by educational facilities for new and existing projects may not comply with the new model code requirements. This article will outline those upcoming code changes and the code-compliant security methods that should be specified to enhance both the safety and security of students and teachers.
The model codes are revised on a three-year cycle to account for changing environments and new technologies, using a consensus process with careful consideration by technical committees and ample time for public comment. In an attempt to address the issue of barricade devices in the 2018 International Building Code (IBC), the following language has been approved:
1010.1.4.4 Locking arrangements in educational occupancies.
In Group E and B educational occupancies, egress doors from classrooms, offices, and other occupied rooms shall be permitted to be provided with locking arrangements designed to keep intruders from entering the room where all of the following conditions are met:
1. The door shall be capable of being unlocked from outside the room with a key or other approved means.
2. The door shall be openable from within the room in accordance with Section 1010.1.9.
3. Modifications shall not be made to listed panic hardware, fire door hardware, or door closers.
1010.1.4.4.1 Remote operation of locks. Remote operation of locks complying with Section 1010.1.4.4 shall be permitted.
This language will apply to K–12, college, and university classrooms, offices, and other occupied rooms. If the rooms are lockable, they must be able to be unlocked from the outside and they must meet the requirements for egress—one operation to unlatch, no keys, tools, special knowledge or effort, and no tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist. Similar language is under consideration for other model codes.