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Feb 11 2013

School Security Follow-Up

Category: Egress,Fire Doors,Locks & KeysLori @ 1:07 am Comments (14)

In the months since the tragedy at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut, there have been renewed efforts on the part of many schools to improve their security and better protect students, staff, and visitors.  While I’m very glad to see the focus on these improvements, I’m also very concerned about some well-meaning but misguided efforts that I’ve come across.  This post is not meant as an attack on any particular product or idea, but a reminder that as we secure these facilities, we must not forget about the other codes affecting the same doors that are being addressed.

Many people have contacted me, concerned about methods being used in their local schools or advertised online.  Here are some examples:

Several websites recommend products or homemade items which prevent the door from latching, so that the outside lever can remain locked at all times but will still allow access because the door is not latched.  If these doors are fire doors, disabling the latching mechanism will result in doors that won’t latch and compartmentalize the building if there is a fire.  This is a violation of the fire code.   Here’s a link to one such product, an “instructional video” on how to make your own hold-open, a website where you can order magnets to cover the strike, and a Youtube video explaining the DIY method.  These products must NOT be used on fire doors.

There are many proposed methods for locking doors using an added lock mechanism or other item which secures the door to prevent an intruder from entering.  Most of these products do not allow free egress from the classroom with one motion to unlatch the door.  Again, this is a fire code violation and could jeopardize lives in an emergency.  These devices could be used by unauthorized individuals to lock the door.  For products that are not permanently attached to the door, there’s also the possibility that the device won’t be readily available in an emergency.  Here’s a product designed by a locksmith, another one that looks like it was designed for residential use but is now called a “classroom lockdown security solution“, and a news story about a teacher’s invention to lock classroom doorsNone of these products meet code requirements for egress or accessibility.

Glass in doors and sidelites can be broken to gain access, as seen at Sandy Hook as well as the Red Lake school shooting in 2005.  One school system asked about replacing the existing glass lites with wood panels and installing viewers in the classroom doors.  But many of the state standards for public education require visual access to classrooms for accountability.  I wouldn’t want my child behind closed doors, with no way for anyone to see what’s going on inside the room.

I’ve heard mention of replacing existing glass with wired glass to provide additional security.  But traditional wired glass is not more secure – in fact it is half as strong as annealed glass, and is a hazard to the building occupants.  Today’s building codes require glass in doors and sidelites to be impact-resistant – traditional wired glass does not meet the current code requirements.  There are glazing products that can help to prevent unauthorized access, along with films that can be applied to existing glass, but facilities need to do their homework.

Several people have asked me about installing electromagnetic locks on cross-corridor and exterior doors throughout school buildings, to “trap” an intruder or prevent him from moving freely through the school.  It would be difficult if not impossible to use lockable doors to confine an intruder, and the hardware used would likely create an egress problem for the other building occupants.  Electromagnetic locks and other electrified hardware must be installed in accordance with the applicable code requirements, which ensure safe egress.

One of the scariest ideas I have heard was to equip each teacher with a wood wedge and a can of wasp spray.  If an intruder entered the building, the plan was for teachers to use the wood wedge to block the door closed, and shoot the intruder with the wasp spray if was able to get the door open.  This introduces a dangerous substance into the classroom, requires teachers to defend themselves and their students with what some consider the equivalent of pepper spray instead of keeping them relatively safe behind a properly locked door, and gives the school a false sense of security because they believe they’re well prepared.

I urge those of you who found this article by Googling “how to lock a classroom door” to consider code-compliant methods such as classroom security locks, which allow a teacher to lock the door from the inside without opening the door and risking exposure to the intruder.  This lock function allows free egress and is code-compliant.  A California law requires classroom security locks on rooms with an occupant load of 5 or more in schools, and a bill that is currently being considered by the Florida House of Representatives would include, among other safety modifications, doors that can be locked by a key from the inside without impeding egress – classroom security locks.

It may be tempting to consider using office function locks which utilize a thumbturn or button to lock the outside lever because the door can be locked immediately (although these wouldn’t meet the proposed Florida requirements).  Some facilities have suggested leaving doors locked on the corridor side at all times (others are still debating whether doors should be locked).  The reason facilities are considering these functions is because of the concern that a teacher won’t be able to find the key quickly enough to lock the door if a classroom security lock is used.  But an office function lock will allow anyone to lock the door and take control of the room.  If a storeroom lock is used, the teacher will need to keep their key handy just for access.  An official procedure which includes immediate access to a key at all times, reinforced with staff training and drills, combines immediate lockdown capability with free egress, and staff control of the door.

Here are examples of how a few school districts are handling security in a code-compliant manner:

14 Responses to “School Security Follow-Up”

  1. Chad Jenkins says:

    Great article Lori! I am not a fan of the classroom security or intruder function lock. It is impossible to expect every teacher to fall back on “training drills.” When real panic ensues the rush of adrenaline from a real shooting will impair one’s judgment. Will the teacher have their key with them? Will they know which way to turn the key from the inside to lock the outside? Will they open the door to check and see if that actually locked the door? There is no uniformed way of keying the inside cylinder of the classroom/intruder lock. Everyone has the understanding of a push button/thumb turn function lock and this is a more faster and reliable way to secure the door in the event of a lockdown. Some teachers and school administrators have concerns that students will prank teachers by locking the door but this will reinforce teachers carrying their key. Besides, should only a teacher (not a student) have the ability to secure a door from the inside during a shooting? I had a concern brought to me about the intruder having the ability to secure the door and I said that is to our benefit. Any law enforcement official will tell you it is important to isolate the situation. We don’t want someone accidentally entering that area or trying to do something that may compromise a volatile situation.

    • Lori says:

      Hi Chad –

      Thanks for your comment. My concern about the office function locks would not be that the intruder would lock the door. It would be that anyone could lock the door at any time. The likelihood of a student locking the door is much greater than an intruder situation. What the student(s) would do behind the locked door would probably be less dangerous than a shooting, but it’s still something we need to guard against.

      Many teachers are required to wear badges and they could carry a key on the same lanyard. A locked/unlocked indicator can help with the confusion, and all of the inside cylinders should be keyed alike. I spoke to Paul Timm of Reta Security about this and he said that the classroom security lock would be his recommendation as well. I expect we’ll see more electronic solutions in the future.

      – Lori

  2. Cda says:

    Very good article

  3. Dave C. says:


    I am a locksmith at a small private college and have begun the process of installing classroom intruder locks on the campus.
    Issuing keys for the interior side of the classroom locks and keeping track of them appears to be a daunting task.
    Have you heard of other instiutions facing this same question and how they handle it?

    • Lori says:

      Hi Dave –

      I’ve heard of many institutions keying the inside cylinders alike and often to a common key like the teachers’ restroom or some other door they all have access to. I’ll check with our end user reps and see if they have any other helpful hints.

      – Lori

  4. Jack Ostergaard says:

    Lori – first great article. Please work it up for your DHI column so it get wider exposeure.
    In the past you had a link for lock indicators – can you repeat this info.
    I’m currently working with seveal school districts where the office function is being used or considered. They want the students to be able to lock the door in the event of an emergecy. The one where it is being used has a three day expulsion policy for students who prank the door closed. It becomes part of the “culture” of the school.
    Ballistic doors and glass have also come up for exterior doors. Considering the testing I’m guessing that the glass does not have a problem when it comes to impact safety.

    • Lori says:

      Thanks Jack!

      I’m sure the doors you’re discussing have the required listings for human impact load.

      It will be interesting to see what happens with office locks on classrooms…in the “olden days” many school classroom doors had thumbturns or toggle buttons and the industry moved toward classroom locks and then classroom security locks. Now some schools are coming full circle. I think we’ll see problems arise. Time will tell.

      The indicator would need to be part of the lock itself, so it varies by manufacturer. I’ll try to get a photo of Schlage’s indicator.

      – Lori

  5. James Caron says:

    Wow Lori, those contraptions are downright scarey in an emergency egress situation. I think the key to a lot of this is just like the first video. Keeping these people out of the school completely. I beleive at Sandy Hook they mentioned the assailant broke the glass and gained access. And I personally think all exterior doors should be treated as that of a police station or border station. HMD x HMF x bullet resistance (and bullet resistant glass if required)….the purpose is to keep the assailants out and gaining access to the police station or border station officers. And in addition classroom security locks w/indicators should be used on all classroom doors (or electrified locks I’ve seen on one school that locked down all classroom locks from main office at a local school). And I think you are correct when classroom security is used typically all keyed alike so any teacher in any room can lock a door or exterior exit device trim from the safe side (interior). Office locks are just asking for trouble in todays day and age to give a child 2-3 minutes to lock a door and beat another student while the teacher tries to unlock it from the outside is just asking for trouble.

  6. Teri Szynski, AHC says:

    Great article, Lori! Please, please, PLEASE get it published in the school safety and security journals ASAP!! These videos and websites scared me more than an actual shooter approaching the building do. I have such a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach knowing that so-called “security experts” (i.e. police!!) are even touting these made-for-disaster devices. I’d like to see the insurance companies go after some of these inventors (albeit without a real disaster happening), to make the authorities aware that safety and security are NOT CHEAP. I know that school budgets are constantly being slashed (as evidenced by my own district), but they MUST be alerted to the even more expensive alternatives if a fire were to break out and students’/ staff lives were lost due to being impeded by one of these devices- and a fire is much more likely to happen than a shooter. It sometimes seems that the bigger strides we make in this industry, the more people there are out there trying to undermine us! 🙂 Keep up the good work, Lori, and do try to get this published and out there in front of the administrators, so that they don’t make such a costly mistake as to buy into these crackpots’ inventions. Our industry is made up of very intelligent and educated people who strive to make the building environment as safe and secure as possible for the public, and we need to align ourselves with the proper fire authorities (obviously not the fireman in the video who hasn’t a clue about these things!) to make our world a safer place….

  7. Roger Yost, CML, CIL says:

    Hi Lori, though some school districts use a common key to operate the inside cylinder of classroom security locks, that all teachers in a building should have, like for the faculty restroom, I will always recommend the inside cylinder be maison-keyed. In an emergency, a teacher shouldn’t have to decide which key to use. The inside cylinder on a classroom security lock should be operated by any key in the school’s key system, which allows any person with a key that operates somewhere at the school to go to a room where kids are and lock the door from the inside.

    • Lori says:

      Thanks Roger – that’s a great idea! Maybe I should do a follow-up post on the topic of maison keying. I haven’t heard it mentioned for classroom security locks so I don’t know how common it is.

  8. Thor Mollung says:

    Great article Lori, you are exactly correct in your approach! After such tragic events such as Sandy Hook, it is important to remember that events such as these represent about 2% of all school violence including assault, sexual assault and bullying. Classroom security function is the way to go. Office function with push button or thumb turn actually creates opportunity for other types of much more common violent events seen in schools today. @RogerYost..Great point as well. Answer should be a review of actual school design that takes into consideration methods of sectioning off portions of a school that prevent or greatly delay a perp’s access to the kids….in accordance with appropriate code of course!

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