As I write this post, my heart goes out to the victims and families of today’s school attack in Peshawar, Pakistan.
It has been two years since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Security has become a priority for many school districts, and I do believe that schools are more secure now. Added security won’t be able to prevent every school-related incident, especially when so many of the “intruders” have actually been members of the school community – often students, who were able to freely gain access to the schools. With most schools now adopting policies of locked exterior doors, it is important to ensure a means of securing the classrooms and other interior spaces.
But how? In the absence of a national standard or even an official list of recommended best practices, many school districts are making decisions on their own. They may not know about the codes designed to protect life safety, or they may believe that in an active shooter situation, anything goes. Popular training programs advise staff and students to barricade doors with furniture to prevent access to the classroom. It’s a short hop to using retrofit security devices instead of furniture, even if those devices are not code-compliant.
A few weeks ago I read about a group in Ohio that raised $30,000 to invest in school security. If any of you have ever tried to raise that kind of money through the PTO or other organizations, it isn’t easy. This group sold candy bars, t-shirts, and bracelets. They convinced parents and grandparents to sponsor a door for $100. They solicited local businesses to get involved. How can you say no when asked for a donation to help provide security for a community’s kids while they’re at school?
In a matter of months, this dedicated group of community members had raised enough money to equip all 307 classrooms in their district with a security device. A device which does not comply with requirements for egress – it requires more than one operation to release, it is not mounted between 34 inches and 48 inches above the floor, it requires tight grasping, pinching, and twisting of the wrist to operate, and it may require special knowledge and/or effort (depending on who you ask).
But replacing every lock in the district was not feasible for this group, and they are excited about their solution. For a code official I think it would be incredibly difficult to go into this situation and enforce the code requirements – saying “no” to the barricade devices. In this case it seems that the code official has allowed the non-compliant devices to be used.
UPDATE: A lot has happened since I wrote this post. In January, the school district in Ohio was told that they could not use the barricade devices without a variance. In February, the state board denied the variance request. In March, bills were filed in the Ohio House and Senate that would prohibit the fire code from prohibiting the devices. An article that I wrote for Doors & Hardware pulls together a lot of information about barricade devices, and I have collected resources on my Schools page (there’s a tab above). There will be an initial hearing about the Ohio situation on April 17th, with another hearing in June and a decision expected in July.
Beyond the code issues, my other two concerns with this type of product are:
- Unauthorized Lock-Down – anyone can gain access to the locking device and lock the door to facilitate a crime or mischief, and
- Inability to Operate the Device from the Ingress Side – no key/credential access by first responders or school staff.
These two issues are not covered by the International Building Code or NFPA 101 – The Life Safety Code, but some Board of Education standards do address them. I recently received a document called State Requirements for Educational Facilities – 2014, a publication of the Florida Department of Education. One of the requirements of this document is:
Locksets. All doors shall be equipped with locksets that are not lockable from inside the space.
Exception: Individual toilet rooms may be locked from the inside, and may be equipped with privacy locks that are readily opened from the inside and that may be opened from the outside without a special tool.
Exception: The classroom security function, which allows the outside lever to be locked with a key from either the inside or outside while keeping the inside lever unlocked for unrestricted egress, may be used.
The Florida DOE standard requires locks which do not allow unauthorized lockdown. An office function lock which can be locked with a thumbturn or push button would not be acceptable, and neither would a retrofit security device. The classroom security locks that are allowed by the standard meet all of the other code requirements for egress and fire protection as well as allowing credentialed access from the ingress side of the door. Bravo Florida!
I’ve heard two objections to classroom security locks:
- They are too difficult for teachers to operate in an emergency situation. To that I say PRACTICE-PRACTICE-PRACTICE. Many retrofit security devices require a similar level of dexterity, and building a barricade of furniture seems like it would take more time than inserting and turning a key, even if it takes longer than usual to operate the lock because of the stress of the situation.
- It takes too long for teachers to find their keys. Most teachers are required to wear an ID badge – the key should be on the same lanyard. If an unauthorized person locks a classroom using a push button, thumbturn, or retrofit device, and the teacher doesn’t have the key (or the device doesn’t allow access from the corridor side), staff will be unable to intervene in whatever situation is occurring in the classroom.
In my opinion, the risks of unauthorized lockdown outweigh the benefits of quick/easy lockdown provided by an office function lock or a retrofit security device. And the importance of authorized access from the ingress side of the door makes many of the retrofit security methods unsuitable for use in a classroom.
There was a reason classroom function locks, and then classroom security locks, were invented decades ago – to prevent a student or other unauthorized person from locking the door. Let’s not trade the control offered by these functions for the ability to lock doors more quickly.
If your state’s Department of Education has issued standards that impact school security and safety, please let me know!
Thank you to Brian Mead of Allegion for sending the Florida requirements.
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One other thing bothers me about the bar.
It advertises that the room is occupied.
And you can also tell which doors aren’t locked.
What bothers me the most is that this device that makes egress so complicated was created by a firefighter!
This video explains the devices use: http://www.abc6onyourside.com/news/features/featured/stories/Southwest-Licking-Schools-Order-Firefighter-Designed-Safety-Device-for-Every-Classroom-61749.shtml#.VJCVcyvF_Tp
A firefighter, of all people, should be acutely aware of the need for unimpeded egress!
I believe that higher education (specifically large universities) have circumstances that do not lend themselves to the classroom security function where faculty use a key on the inside cylinder. The number of classrooms could easily be in the hundreds and possibly in the thousands as well as scattered throughout a number of buildings. The classroom assignments are often fluid, at least term by term. Similarly the number of instructors is quite high. It might be that the ideal lock is one that can be locked from the inside, cancels itself ala privacy function, has an indicator to show both how to lock it and if it is locked, and a key override.
I agree that higher ed has different needs. But the inside cylinders could all be keyed alike and that would help.
My school district has been struggling with this security issue for some time now. As you’ve stated above “replacing every lock in the district” is not feasible for them either. Not however because of lock set cost alone.
Nearly every lock set in the district’s schools can be reached by simply punching out the tempered or wired glass sidelights. It’s just too darned easy to do. The picture at the bottom of your article illustrates the point. Even if the glass in that door was laminated the finish nails and 1/4” wood trim holding it in the door wouldn’t survive a swift kick or two. Reach in defeat the device, same goes for the lock set. It’s just too darned easy to do.
In my districts case the glass proximity issue adds to the difficulty of improving classroom security.
Hi Jon –
Many schools have the same issue. Have they looked into applying a film to the glass or replacing it? I recently talked to one of the owners of School Guard Glass and it seems like a great product.
We’ve researched a variety of film products and many of the claims. This resulted in doubt in terms of its ability to delay a breech attempt. We had a local glass supplier apply a 15mm thick product to a piece of wired glass from one of our schools. We were able to breech that product (meaning make the hole and unlock the door from the inside) in approximately 12 seconds. The School Guard Glass product video you posted (among others) reinforced our perception of the film products. One baseball bat strike produced the hole necessary for a lockset breech.
We considered “replacing” the glass and the obvious question arose… replace it with what? We began looking at laminated glass. Obviously there are product grades that do the job of delaying a intrusion but the thickness and weight would have meant replacing a lot of supporting structures. We couldn’t find a quantifiable claim with regard to how long a violent breech attempt could be delayed using the lighter duty products. By lighter duty I mean something light enough so as not to force the replacement of an existing frame or supporting structure. We did the same test mentioned earlier on a product meeting this requirement. It fared no better, in fact it was a little less dangerous in terms of being cut because the glass in this case was tempered.
I’ll repost my initial thoughts on the School Guard Glass product from the piece you posted a few weeks ago here in a minute. But first I want to say those were observations, not conclusions. Never the less I will say the test in their video wasn’t a focused and sustained attempt to make a hole with a firearm in order to gain access to a lockset.
Here’s a portion of my initial thoughts on that product.
“First the video shows five shots of only one (unspecified) caliber spaced what appears to be 10″ apart. ASTM-F1915 and UL standards for ballistic glass typically call out up to five shots (for many calibers) in a pattern no more than 5″.
“Second, none of the tests I know of are real world.”
Finally, “I’d guess 20 seconds and 15 to 30 .762 caliber rounds concentrated in 4″ spread coupled with a few butt strikes and the bad guy would have his hand all over the door lock.”
When I spoke to the guy from School Guard Glass, he offered to do a demo at their place in Western Mass. Want to come?
We’ve done all of our own destructive tests and I doubt anyone will see the value in traveling to see a controlled manufacturer demo. I did consider contacting them when I read your introduction piece to see if I could get sample for our test purposes. Unfortunately the bottom line is the districts been working almost two years on a way to fund a solution at a much lower price point.
It wouldn’t be good business for the School Guard folks but personally I’d still love to get a piece of the stuff and put it to the test. Know anybody with any pull… 🙂
Hi Jon –
This reply was originally posted in response to the wrong comment, so you would not have received an email notification of it. Here is the comment from the president of School Guard Glass:
We will bring the glass to you and let you attack it. Call anytime.
President School Guard Glass
No easy remedy here. Regarding Higher Ed., the faculty wanted to see a deadbolt thrown for re-assurance of a secure door but did not want a key to do so,so a thumb turn was installed; Sargent 8247. The issue with not having an inside locking mechanism is; during an incident, you don’t know where the bad guy or guys are and what they are doing so a toggle on the lock does not seem practical, but will secure the door and is cost effective. If you’re barricading a door, you should be able to open it slightly to push the toggle to lock the outside trim; Sargent 8205.
For new installations, electric hardware centrally controlled would remove staff from taking action other than being focused on their students safety.
In either case, as Jon mentioned above, side lite frames inherently compromise the opening; break the glass and you’re in.
We will bring the glass to you and let you attack it. Call anytime.
President School Guard glass
When you let people attack the glass, you should put the testimonials on Youtube so people hear from testers not hired by the company. It would only take a few to make people believe.
I have been in the industry for years, and my wife has been a school teacher for over ten years. I completely agree with Lori that it’s PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. You can throw all the new products you want at a classroom door, but it’s practice and policy. Always having your key on your lanyard, knowing how to respond in an emergency. If faculty is required to have their key on their lanyard, then there’s no real threat of being locked out by a trouble maker should the teacher need to step into the hall. Some of these new products (e.g. the sleeve for the door closer arm), are just quick reactionary fixes, that cause more harm than good. It all comes down to education and policy of the faculty and staff.
Thanks Joseph! Would you be comfortable with an office function lock if the teachers all carried keys? Does your answer change depending on whether it’s elementary, middle school, or high school?
These types of “solutions” always astound me, especially when they are allowed to be put into use. So I was especially shocked when I found this tidbit in an article linked to the group’s Facebook page.
“… the district no longer needs state approval to employ them. That had been a potential sticking point, but Jennell said West Licking Joint Fire District’s chief and fire inspectors agreed the devices would not violate any fire codes, effectively signing off on their use.”
When it’s under-informed but well-meaning parents and teachers, I can understand it. But the AHJ, too?? I did read that this was invented by a firefighter, so I hope this isn’t just about making a buck while putting lives at risk.
Lori, regarding your office function question to Joseph, I know of a district going a step further. DCPS policy is that classroom doors are to be locked at all times. To remove the ‘fumbling’ aspect of intruder locks and the human error factor in general, new schools are getting storeroom deadbolt locks (L9480)- always locked and a thumbturn deadbolt for added security. It sounded like overkill at first, but it’s certainly a better option than the ill-conceived devices we keep seeing.
I was very surprised by the AHJ’s response but I feel like these decisions are made because of a perceived lack of feasible options.
I have heard of several schools keeping their classroom doors locked all the time so if there is a problem the door can just be closed or it is already closed. I don’t think it’s a bad option although it might be a pain under normal use.
Every room in my building was equipped with the dual-core locksets, so we are able to lock the door while inside the room using our key. I for one am very glad that this was done, but I do worry about the fact that numerous classes are taught in our classrooms by faculty who do not have the key because their official building (where their office is) is in a different building.
On top of this, there is also the risk for people who are in common areas…the restrooms, the student lounge, etc. how do you make sure they are safe and secure, when students don’t have keys and just have the dumb luck of being in an area with no staff there to lock it for them?
In an ideal world, I would have liked to see an RFID or swipe card system, and have computerized control of the entry doors, that would allow our police department to remotely lock down everything in the building, without the need for the staff in the building to do so.
Thanks for your insight Elizabeth. The key problem could be overcome, but the common areas are very tough…large areas with lots of people and usually no control over the locking. In those cases it might be better to evacuate immediately. The ability to remotely lock doors is available, but expensive.
The School district in question has NOT been permitted to use the devices. They filed a variance with the State Building Code and were turned down. Noe the State Legislators are getting involved (BAD). I am a local locksmith at that district and I personally informed them before they started to collect money that it was not permitted. However a local fireman designed these devices so they ignored my warning. Now they are hell bent on proving me and others wrong, even to the extent they could cause more harm to their own kids. Emotion has taken over. Statistically the chances are very slim they will have a active shooter. However in the U.S. there are over 3000 active fires a year in schools.