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May 21 2018

Fewer Doors –> Fewer School Shootings?

Category: Egress,School SecurityLori @ 12:46 am Comments (6)

By now we have all read or watched multiple news accounts of last Friday’s shooting at Santa Fe (Texas) High School, where 8 students and 2 teachers were killed and 13 people were injured.  I feel somewhat helpless as I hear of yet another shooting, but all I can do is continue to learn and teach about the role played by physical security.  Details are sketchy at this point, but some reports mention the assailant shooting through glass.  More information about doors, locks, and access to the classrooms will follow as the investigation continues.

One headline that caught my eye was from the Washington Post:  “Texas official says that fewer doors could mean fewer school shootings. We had experts weigh in.”  In response to the shooting, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick pointed out that the school had experienced the shooting despite having received a safety award from the state and having two police officers on site.  He went on to say, “We may have to look at the design of our schools moving forward and retrofitting schools that are already built. And what I mean by that is there are too many entrances and too many exits to our more than 8,000 campuses in Texas,” he said, citing security at office buildings and courthouses. “Had there been one single entrance possibly for every student, maybe he would have been stopped.”

The response to these comments was harsh.  Could “too many entrances and too many exits” really be blamed for this senseless shooting?  While reducing the number of exits is probably not feasible and will not solve the problem, schools DO need to limit the number of access points – preferably incorporating a security vestibule and access control at the main entrance, using access control at other entrances, and monitoring all exits.  Not necessarily reducing the number of entrances and exits, but controlling and monitoring them.

With that said, this can be difficult for a campus setting like Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where students and staff may move between buildings during the school day.  And having all students enter through one access point might have led to the discovery of the weapons used in Friday’s shooting in Texas, but when the assailant is a student or another person who is authorized to be in the building, weapons may be concealed and go unnoticed until it’s too late.

I am completely in favor of securing perimeter doors to prevent unauthorized access, and supervising entry points.  But exits are critical to maintain, as the ability to evacuate is an important part of each school’s emergency response plan.  As with classroom doors, it’s crucial to consider all factors and the potential consequences of the security methods deployed.


A letter from a parent of a Santa Fe shooting survivor was published on CNN.  Although it is not an official police report, it gives some detail about what happened in the art classroom, including mention of a locked door:  “She said everything happened so fast and everyone is panicking and running around the room. There’s a door at the back of the room to which the kids are running…only to discover the door is locked and they are trapped.”

There will undoubtedly be a push to add classroom barricade devices to existing doors in Texas schools, but in a survey compiled by the National Association of State Fire Marshals, the Texas State Fire Marshal reported that classroom barricade devices are not allowed in Texas schools.  The model codes require doors in a means of egress to unlatch with one releasing operation (all latches simultaneously), so adding a barricade device to a door with existing latching hardware is not compliant with the model codes.

Another news report mentioned the fire alarm:  “Zach Wofford, a senior, said he was in his agricultural shop class when he heard gunfire from the art classroom across the hall. He said substitute teacher Chris West went into the hall to investigate and pulled a fire alarm.  ‘He saved many people today,’ Wofford said of West.”

There has been a lot of discussion since the shooting in Parkland, Florida, about whether schools should delay evacuation when a fire alarm sounds, to give administrators time to decide whether to evacuate.  If the fire alarm was pulled by a Santa Fe teacher and allowed students to safely exit, this will add to the debate about whether students should evacuate immediately upon fire alarm or shelter in place.  I am doing some research into current state policies regarding delayed fire alarm notification in schools, and I will share this information in an upcoming post.

May 18 2018

FF: Found Fasteners

Category: Door Closers,Fixed-it FridayLori @ 12:03 am Comments (8)

No screw pack in the box?  No problem!

Thank you to Rich McKie of School District 38 Richmond, BC, Canada for today’s Fixed-it Friday photo!

May 17 2018

Self-Closing Residential Doors Required by Law

Category: FDAI,Fire DoorsLori @ 12:30 pm Comments (4)

Back in 2011, I wrote about a conversation that I had with a California fire marshal.  A fatal fire in a multi-family residential building in Albany, California had drawn attention to the importance of closed doors, and the city of about 20,000 residents had created an ordinance requiring self-closing dwelling-unit entry doors.

Since then (and prior), there have been other multi-family fires where open doors led to injuries and fatalities, as well as property damage.  One of the high-profile fires occurred in the Bronx in December of last year, where 13 people were killed when the door to the apartment of fire origin was left open – allowing the fire to spread to the stairwell.  In the investigation that followed, it was noted that the apartment door should have been self-closing because of a law that had been on the books for more than 100 years.

A new package of fire safety laws has now been approved by New York City legislators, and is on the mayor’s desk awaiting his signature:

  • #0602-2018 requires R-1* and R-2** occupancies to have self-closing doors where doors provide access to interior corridors or stairs.  Building owners have until July 31, 2021 to comply with this requirement, and failure to maintain self-closing doors results in a Class C “Immediately Hazardous” violation which must be corrected within 21 days.  Note that this requirement does not apply only to apartments (see definitions of R-1 and R-2 occupancies below).
  • #0608-2018 requires multiple-dwelling building owners to post notices in conspicuous locations indicating that those escaping a fire should close all doors behind them.  This requirement takes effect 120 days after it is signed into law.
  • #0610-2018 requires building owners to provide stove knob covers for each dwelling unit with a gas stove where a child under 6 years old resides (a young child playing with the gas stove was the cause of the Bronx fire).

While these updated laws are a step forward for New York City, what about the rest of the US?  Why should each city and town require a local ordinance for something that has been required by code for decades?  And wouldn’t the enforcement of annual fire door inspections help to ensure that these doors will provide the expected protection during a fire?

I know…patience is not one of my strengths.


*R-1 occupancies contain sleeping units where the occupants are primarily transient in nature, including: boarding houses and congregate living facilities (transient) with more than 10 occupants, hotels, and motels.

**R-2 occupancies contain sleeping units or more than two dwelling units where the occupants are primarily permanent in nature, including: apartment houses, congregate living facilities with more than 16 occupants, boarding houses, convents, dormitories, fraternities and sororities, monasteries, non-transient hotels and motels, live/work units, and vacation timeshare properties.

Photo:  Sam Costanza/for New York Daily News

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