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Apr 26 2018

Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission

Category: School SecurityLori @ 10:50 am Comments (2)

In the 2018 legislative session, the Florida legislature created the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission – a group tasked with identifying and addressing issues that occurred during the February 14th shooting in Parkland, in order to improve school safety and security.  The commission includes representatives from law enforcement, school administrators, mental health counselors, and parents of several victims.

The first meeting of the commission was held this week, and information was shared which will help us to understand the role played by physical security and design features of the building.  A video animation was played during the meeting, to illustrate the timeline of events and locations of victims.  It is a very difficult video to watch, but provides valuable insight.

News reports state that the design of the school contributed to the loss of life in Building 12 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.  There were other factors, certainly, but my area of expertise is codes and physical security, so I will continue to focus on that aspect of school safety.  There were several important points illustrated by the MSD video:

  • Free Access:  Not only was the suspect able to access the school grounds through gates that had been unlocked just prior to dismissal, he was then able to access the building through an unlocked door.  Schools that are set up as a campus, with students and staff accessing multiple buildings during the school day, are difficult to secure.  The entrance to school grounds becomes even more critical.  Doors that are left unlocked to accommodate the flow of occupants throughout the school day, should have electrified hardware to allow immediate lockdown if necessary.
  • Lock Function:  There are several lock functions commonly used on classroom doors, and there are pros and cons to each (refer to the video on this page).  The locks at Marjory Stoneman Douglas were traditional classroom function – locking the door requires the use of a key in the outside lever.  If the locks were in the locked position, closing the door secured the classroom.  But for locks that were not in the locked position, the teacher had to insert a key in the outside lever to lock the door.  It remains to be seen which lock function will be chosen by the district as a replacement – most schools that have experienced past shootings now have classroom security locks, office function locks, or electrified locks – all can be locked from inside the classroom and will still allow free egress.  [Note: I have not yet heard of a school where a shooting occurred that has chosen to use classroom barricade devices.]
  • Glazing:  The classroom doors in Parkland had small vision panels – these are important because they can be used to observe the classroom during normal use.  I’m not in favor of removing the ability to see into the classroom in case there might someday be a shooting; these vision panels are often required by state Board of Education standards.  Impact-resistant glazing or film can be used to deter access through the glass to operate the hardware from the inside, but glazing that would stop an automatic weapon would be extremely costly.  Covering the glass during a shooting and moving students to an area of the classroom that is out of the line of sight would be much more feasible.  In the video, the suspect accessed the teachers’ lounge by breaking the glass and reaching through, but he did not access the classrooms this way (why?).
  • Restrooms:  In the animation, several victims moved toward the restrooms and then left.  This makes me wonder whether restroom doors were locked, or whether victims didn’t feel safe in non-lockable restrooms.  A deadbolt function that can be locked from the inside with a key but allows egress with a thumbturn could allow building occupants to shelter in the restroom, but only if a teacher with a key was inside of the restroom.
  • Fire Alarm:  There are conflicting reports on whether the suspect activated the fire alarm manually, or whether the shooting caused the fire alarm to activate.  The video indicates the latter.  Schools need to implement procedures for what to do if a fire alarm and an active-shooter incident happen simultaneously.
  • Stair Doors:  As I wrote in my article earlier this week, compartmentalizing a building can help to limit the movement of assailants from one area of the building to another.  One important clarification is that when electrified hardware is used to limit access, most types of electrified hardware are not required to unlock upon fire alarm.  The exception would be electromagnetic locks released by a sensor, which I would not recommend for schools.  If the stair doors in Building 12 had been locked on the stair side to limit movement between floors, the International Building Code (IBC) requires those doors to be able to be unlocked by a signal from the fire command center or other location.  Typically this switch is activated by firefighters; the IBC does not require stair doors to automatically unlock upon fire alarm.
  • Notification/Training/Drills:  In order to respond properly, it’s critical for schools to have a way of immediately alerting students and teachers to a security breach, as well as alerting emergency personnel.  In the video, the occupants of the second floor responded differently from the occupants of the first and third floors – perhaps because the second-floor occupants heard gunfire.  Training and drills are also critical components of a school’s security and safety plan.  In one news report, a teacher whose classroom was on the second floor indicated that she heard shots, locked the door, covered the vision light with paper, turned off the lights, and told the students to hide out of sight of the doorway – silently.  She did all the right things, but the article states, “She said it was purely ‘presence of mind’ because she had never been trained for a scenario such as this.”


If you have questions about school security and safety, please leave them in the reply box or send me an email.

Image:  Sun-Sentinel

Apr 25 2018

WW: Break Out

Category: Egress,Wordless WednesdayLori @ 12:36 am Comments (11)

I think these Wordless Wednesday photos may permanently affect my ability to speak.  Thank you to Jerry Davis of Allegion!

Apr 24 2018

School Security – Compartmentalization

Category: School SecurityLori @ 1:11 pm Comments (9)

Last Friday was the 19th anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School, where 12 students and 1 teacher were killed and 24 people were injured.  While working on an upcoming article, I realized that I knew much more about more recent school shootings than I did about what happened at Columbine.  I think that’s because it was the first school shooting of this scale that occurred during my career.  Although it was a horrific incident, I wouldn’t have expected other school shootings of this magnitude to occur, or for this to become such an important area of focus for me.

The only way to understand how to address physical security in hopes of reducing casualties in school shootings is to learn from what has taken place in past incidents.  Over the weekend I read a book called Columbine, by Dave Cullen and reviewed the information that was compiled by the author while conducting research for the book.  I watched videos and read articles.  It was tough, but I now know much more about the shooting.

Of the many things I learned about that day, one thing that struck me was that the assailants had access to so many areas of the school – the cafeteria, the library, the stairways, corridors, and classrooms.  The ability for them to move freely throughout the school almost certainly affected the number of casualties.

When considering physical security improvements for schools, the first points typically addressed are the exterior doors – the main entrance, secondary entrances, and doors that are intended only for egress.  Next, the classrooms – as those doors can help to create safer areas for students and teachers to wait for assistance if an incident occurs.  Doors serving large assembly spaces like cafeterias and gymnasiums are very important to consider because of the potential for many building occupants to be gathered there.

An additional point of security to consider is the use of cross-corridor doors to compartmentalize a building.  In the past, these doors were often used to deter the spread of smoke and flames in case of a fire, but current code requirements have reduced the need for cross-corridor fire doors.  However, these doors can serve an important purpose when it comes to school security.

I have seen several school projects that incorporate cross-corridor security doors to compartmentalize the building and help to prevent an assailant from moving freely throughout the school.  The least complicated way to equip these doors is to specify panic hardware that is locked on the access (pull) side, with wall-mounted electromagnetic holders.  The doors are held open most of the time, but can be released with the push of a button – typically in the main office – that cuts power to the magnetic holders.  Depending on the system, this could also be done automatically when the alarm sounds to indicate a security breach.  Since the access side of the hardware is already locked, the doors are automatically secure as soon as they are closed.  When budget permits, the panic hardware may be equipped with electrified lever trim which locks when the system is activated.

There are a few considerations when using cross-corridor doors to compartmentalize for security:

  • The school must have a means of immediately notifying building occupants that a security breach is taking place
  • In most cases, the doors must allow free egress from the push side and can only be locked on the pull side
  • Impact-resistant glazing should be used in doors and sidelights adjacent to the door hardware, to delay access to the inside lever or touchpad through broken glass
  • For some schools, magnetic holders with an increased holding force may be needed in order to reduce the frequency of students closing cross-corridor doors
  • Planned egress routes should lead out of the building through outer doors – preferably directing occupants away from lobbies and other congested areas
  • Periodic drills should address the use of cross-corridor doors and the planned egress routes
  • Keys or access-control credentials should be readily available to allow emergency access to secured areas

What do you think of this approach? 


The floor plan below illustrates an elementary school with the cross-corridor security doors highlighted, as well as doors which control traffic flow beyond the main office.  Locked doors at these locations would deter or prevent access to relatively large areas of the school, while allowing free egress and evacuation.  Doors to classrooms and assembly spaces would also be lockable on the access side.


Floor plan courtesy of: eppstein uhen : architects


The plan below is for a K-5 school where each wing and the gymnasium can be isolated by cross-corridor security doors.  In an emergency, egress could be directed out the ends of the wings to avoid passing through the central area of the building.  This plan also includes a security vestibule to limit access to the school.

Floor plan courtesy of: Emc2 Architects

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