Panic devices for glass entrances: overcoming design and specification challenges

by Al Eini, CDT

Glass doors grace the Hotel Indigo at the Metropolis development in Los Angeles. The design firm for this project was Gensler.
Photo © Geoff Captain

Life safety is perhaps the most important consideration in building design, and emergency egress systems play a critical role. In particular, panic devices allow occupants to quickly and safely exit a building during emergency scenarios.

Glass entrance systems have been steadily growing in popularity because of their ability to improve daylighting, provide unobstructed views, and present a contemporary aesthetic. Although there are several panic device styles available for various door types, tubular panic devices are currently in demand, in part because their slim, minimalist design offers an ideal visual complement to glass entrances.

Apple Park, the headquarters for Apple in Cupertino, California, incorporates more than 1000 custom panic handles with custom finishes. This facility also employs custom electric strikes with lock indicators.

For full-frame glass doors, a variety of panic devices exist. For all-glass doors (frameless), the tubular style is used in most cases. Tubular panic devices present unique challenges requiring careful evaluation. For example, all the mechanics of a standard panic must be concealed in a low-profile design and still meet rigorous safety and performance standards. Due to their highly customized nature, compatibility issues with glass templates and sizes can arise.

Key hardware and specification criteria must be taken into account to ensure that tubular panic and glass door designs comply with life safety codes. Addressing and overcoming the challenges associated with tubular panics will produce safe and secure glass entrances that also meet the aesthetic intent.

Understanding applicable codes
The International Building Code (IBC) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 101, Life Safety Code, require panic devices to be listed in accordance with Underwriters Laboratories (UL) 305, Standard for Panic Hardware. The Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA) also has its own standard for panic hardware: American National Standards Institute (ANSI)/BHMA A156.3, Exit Devices.

Most jurisdictions have adopted IBC and NFPA 101 panic device requirements. It should be noted, each standard defines occupancy loads differently. According to IBC, panic devices are required on doors where:

  • assembly occupancies have a load of 50 or more people;
  • educational occupancies have a load of 50 or more people; and
  • high hazard occupancies have a load of any amount.

NFPA 101 requires panic devices on doors where:

  • assembly occupancies have a load of 100 or more people;
  • educational occupancies have a load of 100 or more people;
  • day care occupancies have a load of 100 or more people; and
  • high hazard occupancies have a load of five or more people.

Additional safety requirements for panic devices are set forth in IBC and NFPA 101. They are as follows.

  • The actuating portion of the panic device must be at least half the width of the door. On balanced doors, the actuating portion cannot extend past half the width of the door (measured from the latch side).
  • The crossbar or crash bar must
    be mounted between 864 mm
    (34 in.) and 1219 mm (48 in.)
    above the floor.
  • Panic hardware must be operable with less than 67 N (15 lb) of force.
  • No additional locking devices are permitted on doors requiring panic hardware.
  • Fire doors have their own unique set of requirements for panic devices.

Local jurisdictions sometimes adopt specific code requirements for emergency egress systems. It is important to consult the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) early on in the project for clarification. Not doing so can lead to compliance issues, which may result in costly and time-consuming reworks and requests for interpretation (RFI).

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