I read an article this morning about a 3-year-old boy who eloped from his preschool in Bangor, Maine (Bangor Daily News: Toddler returned to child care center after escape through unlocked fire door). The teacher saw him go through the exterior door while she was changing another child’s diaper. By the time the teacher had placed that child on the floor and chased after the child who had eloped, a tragedy could have occurred as there was a busy street nearby. I think it’s interesting that the poll question accompanying the article shows that 79% of the respondents would not allow child care centers to lock their egress doors, while 21% would allow those doors to be locked. (My favorite line of the article: “The boy was not injured and afterward took a nap, his father, James Higgins of Bangor, said Monday.” 🙂 )
Elopement of young children and students with special needs is something many schools struggle with. Because most doors are required to unlatch with one operation, and the International Building Code (IBC) does not currently allow delayed egress locks to be used in Educational (or Assembly or High Hazard) occupancies, the most restrictive hardware that would be compliant with the IBC is an exit alarm. In the situation described in the article, an alarm wouldn’t have helped unless it momentarily scared or confused the child enough to slow him down.
In order to address this issue and give schools another option for deterring egress, the BHMA Codes & Government Affairs Committee and the Building Code Action Committee both submitted code change proposals for the 2018 IBC which would allow delayed egress locks to be used in Educational occupancies if the building is equipped throughout with an automatic sprinkler system or approved automatic smoke or heat detection system. The original proposals would have restricted the use of delayed egress locks in schools to spaces with an occupant load of 10 people or less, which was an attempt to limit their use to doors serving classrooms with a small number of students.
Proposal E68-15 was later modified to remove the 10-occupant limit, was approved as modified by the ICC committee, and will be incorporated into the 2018 edition of the IBC. In that edition, Educational occupancies will be listed as one of the use groups where delayed egress locks can be used, without the restriction on occupant load (refer to page 861 of this document for more information). Technically, the 2018 edition must be adopted in a school’s jurisdiction before this change will go into effect, but the documentation associated with the upcoming change may be useful for discussions with the Authority Having Jurisdiction, if a school would like to request permission from the AHJ to use delayed egress locks. FYI – NFPA 101-The Life Safety Code currently allows the use of delayed egress locks in Educational and Day Care occupancies without a restriction on occupant load.