A few weeks ago I wrote about a community group in Ohio that raised $30,000 to purchase a barricade device for each classroom door in their school district. As much as I applaud the effort it took to raise that kind of money, and the desire to make schools more secure, I expressed several concerns in my post. The device selected by the group and the school district is not code-compliant from an egress or accessibility standpoint unless state codes are changed. And the device can be installed by anyone, whether they are authorized to lock the door or not. Once installed, the device does not allow authorized access (staff or first responders) from the ingress side of the door.
Over the weekend I saw a headline about this school district from the Newark Advocate:
That certainly got my attention. The devices have been purchased and delivered. A $30,000 investment that took months of blood, sweat, and tears to raise. I do feel their pain.
Upon reading the full article, it looks like the final decision may not yet have been made, but at this point the state fire marshal considers the retrofit security devices to be a violation of the egress code requirements. Here is an excerpt from the article:
District officials thought they had approval from local fire inspectors to use the devices, but a spokeswoman from the State Fire Marshal’s Office said last week that SWL still needs state approval.
Until they get that approval, using the devices violates state fire and building codes, said Lindsey Burnworth, a public information officer with the State Fire Marshal’s Office.
“We’re not trying to come down on them or anything,” Burnworth said.
Burnworth pointed to a Feb. 17, 2014, letter from State Fire Marshal Larry Flowers and the chair of the State Board of Building Standards, Gerald Holland. The letter addresses the potential violations.
The pair drafted the letter after schools began updating their safety training and safety plans. The letter references specific regulations outlined by the Ohio Building Code and the Ohio Fire Code.
“Doors in the means of egress must be readily openable from the egress side without the use of a key or specific knowledge or effort,” one section of the letter reads.
The unlatching of doors, according to the letter, also must not require more than one operation.
Burnworth said the letter leaves little room for confusion. Teachers cannot barricade doors, even with removable door stops, because they no longer would be readily openable.
I have heard of devices being confiscated, but typically on a smaller scale and with less potential public outcry. My teacher-friend Shilana (whose input I shared here and here) had purchased a barricade device for about $65, but she told me that the fire inspector had taken the device during an inspection.
And as I mentioned in this post, I spoke to a representative from a large school district and their policy is this:
“We do not allow, nor do we have any locks which can be locked without the use of a key (ie. thumbturns, push buttons etc.). If we see any of these locks when we do inspections, they are removed immediately. Locking a door without a key allows students to lock teachers and staff out, leading to unruly behavior or unlawful acts.
If the teachers buy a retrofit device and we see it on an inspection, it’s coming with us. Retrofit devices can be as simple as a wood wedge, hasp and padlock, slide bolts, hook and eyes etc. Anything that adds another manual function to open a door goes in the dumpster. The policy is citywide and covers elementary schools also.”
On the other hand, I spoke to a supplier of doors and hardware who tried to educate her local school district about the code requirements for classroom doors and the proper way to secure them. She sent what I thought was a thorough and thoughtful email referencing code requirements and industry experts while describing why a retrofit security device was not the optimal choice, and offered a code-compliant solution (classroom security locks). A member of the local Board of Education responded to her, and if I hadn’t seen the email myself I wouldn’t have believed it. His exact response, in full, was:
“So this is your attempt to bully the district into buying your product? Interesting sales strategy…”
Without legislation or code changes to specifically address the locking of classroom doors, it is risky to purchase retrofit security devices. In addition to the risks associated with preventing free egress or affecting the performance of a fire door, and the risk of potential liability that could result from unauthorized lockdown or delayed response, there is the risk of having the device confiscated.
Over the next couple of days I will be discussing this topic with the BHMA Codes & Government Affairs Committee, in hopes of coming to a consensus on whether we are going to recommend any code changes for new or existing doors. If you have insight or opinions that you’d like to add to the discussion, I’m all ears.