The key to minimizing risk and life loss during an active shooter incident is preparation.
During the shooting at UCLA, several photos were tweeted from the engineering building where the shooting was taking place. Because most of the classroom doors were not equipped with locks, or had locks that could not be locked by the occupants of the building, the students were improvising their own locking methods.
I’m sure that some of the manufacturers of classroom barricade devices will use this incident to try to sell their retrofit devices. But while it might cost less to buy a gadget to lock the classroom door, there are many disadvantages to using this security method. Adding these devices to the existing doors and hardware will mean that the doors are not compliant with model code requirements for egress, fire protection, and in most cases – accessibility. In California, classroom barricade devices are not allowed by the state codes.
When I’ve expressed concerns about an unauthorized person installing a classroom barricade device to secure the classroom and commit a crime, I’ve been told by barricade device proponents that there is no cause for concern – the teacher could keep the device in a safe place where only the teacher had access to it. How would this work in a college or university, where various professors may use any given classroom? In this situation, the device would not be able to be hidden and installed only by the classroom teacher. Anyone could install it, and once in place, most of the devices prevent access – even authorized access by school staff and emergency responders.
Traditional locks provide the necessary level of security without sacrificing life safety or leaving facilities open to the liability associated with using a product that hinders egress and can be used to secure the classroom for ill intent.
Methods for securing classroom doors is one aspect of school security that should be addressed in the emergency plans for a school. During an active shooter incident or other lockdown situation, students and teachers may need to shelter-in-place behind a locked classroom door, or evacuate to a safe location if necessary. It’s important to plan for both possibilities.
The Final Report of the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission includes several recommendations regarding classroom doors, including Recommendation #1 – classroom doors should be lockable from inside the classroom. Another recommendation of this report addresses the distribution of keys to all staff including substitute teachers. The report states: “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.” Traditional locksets provide the required level of security for classroom doors, but it is important to consider the location, type, and size of glazing adjacent to the hardware to ensure that the lockset cannot be defeated by breaking the glass.
The National Association of State Fire Marshals – or NASFM, has published a set of guidelines for classroom door security. In some jurisdictions, these recommendations may be mandatory depending on applicable codes, laws, and regulations. The guidelines include classroom door hardware that meets the following criteria:
• Hardware that is lockable from inside the classroom without opening the door, to minimize the teacher’s exposure
• Access from outside of the classroom by emergency responders using a key or other credential
• Egress without a key, tool, special knowledge or effort, and one operation to unlatch the door
• Operable hardware mounted between 34 inches and 48 inches above the floor, and no tight grasping, tight pinching, or twisting of the wrist to operate, with the bottom 10 inches on the push side of manual doors a flush, smooth surface
• If a classroom door is fire rated, the door must be self-closing and self-latching, and may not be modified in a way that invalidates the fire rating
There are many retrofit security devices (also known as barricade devices) on the market today which do not meet these guidelines. These devices typically barricade the door, delaying or preventing egress and often making it impossible for staff and emergency responders to open the door from the outside. Check the local code requirements to determine whether these devices are allowed by the Authority Having Jurisdiction.
There are several lock functions that are commonly used in schools, and there are pros and cons to each. All of the following lock functions allow immediate egress and authorized access, in accordance with the NASFM guidelines.
• The classroom security function allows a teacher to lock the outside lever without opening the door, by inserting a key in the cylinder on the inside lever. While the use of a key ensures that only an authorized person can lock the classroom door, some staff members may have difficulty using fine motor skills to lock the door in a high-stress situation. Lockdown drills and practice will help to familiarize teachers with the operation of the lock, and an indicator will confirm that the lock has been put into lockdown.
• An entrance function or office function lock is locked by turning a thumbturn or pushing a button on the inside lever. This makes it easy to lock the outside lever without opening the door, but it is also possible for the door to be locked by an unauthorized person, including someone who may want to secure a classroom to commit an assault, theft, vandalism or other crime. If this lock function is used, staff should carry keys to unlock the door from the outside in case of unauthorized lockdown.
• A storeroom function lock always requires a key to retract the latch and enter the room. A classroom lock can be locked or unlocked using a key in the outside lever, but would require a teacher to open the door to do so. Many schools have existing classroom locks, and some have instituted a policy in which the classroom is kept locked at all times, making the lock’s operation similar to a storeroom function lock. This strategy makes sense when budgetary constraints prevent replacement of the locks with a function that can be locked without opening the door, but it can be inconvenient to keep the doors locked all the time.
• Electronic classroom locks are available that are locked by pressing a button on a fob worn by staff members. Some locks can be locked remotely or as a system-wide lockdown. Using a fob removes the concern about the fine-motor skills necessary for inserting and turning a key, and lockdown cannot be initiated by an unauthorized person who is not in possession of the fob, but the cost of replacing existing locks with an electronic product may not be feasible for all facilities.
Remember, all of these lock functions allow free egress by turning the inside lever, as required by the model codes. In addition, all of these options allow authorized access from the outside by staff or emergency responders. Balancing life safety with security is critical when choosing a locking method for classroom doors. For more information on classroom door locks and other school security topics, visit www.AcademyLocksmith/schools.