The reasoning behind these proposed changes is often based on the misconception that barricading the door is the only way to protect students and teachers in the classroom. There are code-compliant locks readily available from many manufacturers that provide the needed security without compromising safety in favor of lower cost. While locks address one aspect of classroom security requirements, there are other factors to consider, such as the door, frame, glass, key distribution, communication, and lockdown procedures. Many school security experts recommend classroom security locks, which can be locked from within the classroom using a key (mechanical locks) or electronic fob (electrified locks). (The Partner Alliance for Safer Schools can be viewed at passk12.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/PASS-White-Paper-Classroom-Barricade-Devices-Final.pdf).
The final report of the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, convened in the wake of the 2012 tragedy, included many recommendations for school safety. Their recommendation includes that classroom doors should be lockable from inside the classroom. This is because, as the report notes:
The testimony and other evidence presented to the commission reveals that there has never been an event in which an active shooter breached a locked classroom door.
It is also important to note a 2007 study, “Barricaded Hostage and Crisis Situations in Schools: A Review of Recent Incidents,” examined 19 such hostage situations that occurred between 1998 and 2007. In 16 of the 19 cases, the perpetrator was a student at the school—meaning the threat was already in the room.
There are a number of lock functions that can be used in schools, depending on existing conditions, the needs of the facility, and the budget. All lock functions that would typically be installed on a classroom door allow free egress as well as authorized access by staff and emergency responders, and will provide the necessary balance of life safety and security for teachers and students.
The instinctive reaction to school shootings is to provide preventative methods to protect students and teachers from the line of fire. However, the desire to react quickly and within budgetary restrictions sometimes leads to choices that may solve one problem but inadvertently create another. The requirements for free egress, fire protection, and accessibility must be considered in conjunction with security. Unauthorized lockdown and emergency responder access are important considerations, although they are not currently addressed by the model codes.
Upcoming changes made to codes or laws at a national level will establish more consistent requirements than addressing this issue individually. However, when working to increase the security of an educational facility—or any type of building—an all-hazards approach should be taken, considering not just active shooters and terrorism, but also fire, severe weather, natural disasters, and other types of emergencies. There is never a sound reason to sacrifice life safety in favor of security.
Lori Greene, DAHC/CDC, CCPR, FDHI, FDAI, is the codes and resources manager for Allegion. She has been in the industry for more than 30 years, and used to be a hardware consultant writing specifications. Greene is a member of CSI, the Door and Hardware Institute (DHI), the International Code Council (ICC), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and the Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA) Codes and Government Affairs Committee. She has a monthly column on code issues in Doors & Hardware, and blogs at www.iDigHardware.com. Greene won The Construction Specifier Article of the Year Award. She can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.