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Jan 04 2015

Retrofit Security Devices In the News

Category: Egress,School SecurityLori @ 11:11 pm Comments (26)

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:

SWL Schools unable to use donated door barricades

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.

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26 Responses to “Retrofit Security Devices In the News”

  1. Richard Leibowitz says:

    I don’t believe that the Fire Department or Building Department for that matter can promulgate a policy
    allowing it to confiscate private or public property. They could/should issue a violation notice if they perceive an violation.

    • Lori says:

      That’s interesting. I don’t know what the rules are but I know of a lot of fire inspectors who routinely confiscate wood wedges used to prop open fire doors, so this is a more expensive version of that practice.

  2. David Bishton says:

    Lori, have you found out anything about the company that makes this device? And whether they sought any code or fire official approval before marketing it? There’s another story – selling a product with known hazards or a verifiable code violation.

  3. Pete Schifferli says:

    I’m very pleased that state and school district officials, at least in the two cases cited; have acted appropriately in what could have disastrous consequences. It is unfortunate that well intentioned individuals often lack the background and expertise to properly evaluate school house security. As for that myopic school board member, that is unfortunately the penny-pinching attitude of some school districts who also fail to see the possible tragic outcome of such devices. My two cents.

  4. Tom Breese says:

    At some point, after some period of time of announcing the product and getting responses from the life-safety community, the manufacturer of this after-market device had to have known about the life-safety concern with his product, and then chose to continue to manufacture and sell the product anyway. Was full disclosure given, then, to the customer, in this case the school district, in the sales process? Something like “…check with your local fire official…” would be expected. What did the manufacturer know, and when did he know it?

  5. krysbe says:

    Could something be put into the preface or some other section of the next NFPA/BHMA, suggesting that no equipment preventing proper egress is to be used on an egress door unless explicitly authorized by the *state/territory* (not local) AHJ with very specific personnel procedures in place (i.e. with this barracuda barricade, it would need to be in a locked closet in the classroom only to be opened by the teacher, and only to be used by the teacher, with regular drills in place to ensure procedures will be followed in the event of an actual emergency)? In addition, any of these devices would also need to be able to be used be a disabled individual (no tight grasping, twisting, pinching, acceptable height level, etc.) as some individuals that would need to use the device might be disabled.
    This would allow for the opportunity for some areas where crime and violence is a higher risk than fire to have a legal and safe as possible compromise, but would still prevent most (if not all) current retrofit devices from being used as they would not meet ADA compliance.

  6. James Caron, AOC says:

    School boards are very interesting, everything seems to be about bullying. Someone offers sound advice how to secure doors and labeled a bully. I am glad to see these local school districts taking steps to keep our children safe in their environment while not violating fire & egress codes. I know I will bring up the matter if this ever comes up with our local school boards.

  7. TJ McLaughlin says:

    Thanks for the follow-up on this story, Lori. School security aside, this also seems to muddy the waters on who the AHJ is… at least the way I read it. Why is the state fire marshal over-riding the local fire marshal? Is it a State Board of Ed issue? State money in the school system?

    What do you think?

    • cda says:

      Some states work that way,

      Plus, sometimes as in hospitals there are multi layers of AHJ’s!!!!!!!!!

      city, county, state, fed, etc.

    • Lori says:

      There are often several AHJs, and sometimes there are conflicts between the codes that are being enforced by each. There is probably someone who has the final authority for each state, but a local AHJ can require something over and above what the code requires if he/she believes that a hazard exists. If a facility was seeking approval for one specific project there’s a method to follow, but the issue of retrofit security devices is a tough one to get complete consensus on because there are so many parties involved.

  8. gknoblock says:

    Thank you Lori, for gathering this information and publishing it.

  9. Chuck says:

    While I feel bad that SWL went to all of the trouble to fund-raise and purchase what they thought to be a solution to the problem, I am relieved to hear that the voice of reason intervened.

    I should be surprised to hear that this particular device was designed by a firefighter, but I’m not.
    I have been involved in a dialogue with a former FDNY firefighter who is trying to get a fusible-link spring hinge on the market. His pitch is that his hinges should go on apartment doors so that they will close during a fire, but can be left open without propping them open at any other time. I told him I was concerned that by the time the heat needed to activate the spring hinge got to the hinge, that everyone would already be dead from smoke inhalation. He was unfazed by this. I would think a former firefighter would have a better understanding of heat and smoke transfer during a fire.

  10. Gerald Austin says:

    What they are requiring has been with the codes for a very long time. Since the buildings have people of different understanding and abilities incident into them, the path to escape must be free of unnecessary impediments to free, unencumbered exiting from anywhere in the building to the public way outside. From any space, one should be able to unlatch any door without further thought that is in your way with a simple, single action. That used to include even from bathrooms in healthcare occupancies which made it difficult to use those little “Occupied/Unoccupied” thumb operated advisories that the room was in use if they were separated from the door latching hardware and latched the door independent of the normal hardware. Confusion and delays in egress have cost many lives in this country over the years. I have written about the building folks and their management who do not have any desire to learn why fire codes are what they are and thus make ridiculous comments about the fire officials who have very precise knowledge. I would say those who now have the torch (not us retire folk), need to be constantly educating the owners and operators of buildings about the basic principles of fire safety in buildings which have originated in the hard school of hard knocks in our country over the decades. I always found that when people understood why something was required, maybe backed up by some concrete examples from past fires and life loss situation, they stopped fighting things and started working towards better safety.

  11. Jeff Bensinger says:

    I have been a locksmith at a University for the last 32 years. I have not seen any new devices on the market to aid in different emergencies. WHY I cant say for sure but there are some very good ideas that do meet life safety requirements and are not getting the attention they should. I know because I have one – The Quick Panic Release allows for the panic hardware to be secured even without a key or allen wrench. This still allows anyone to leave the building or area but then remains locked when the door closes, only to be reopened or unlocked with the key to prevent unauthorized re-entry.

    There is no one to step up to the plate when it comes to making any kind of changes to door hardware unless the manufacture is the one that changes it.

    • Lori says:

      Hi Jeff –

      I like the idea of another way to control dogging, but I’m curious about whether the UL listing of the panic hardware is affected by the addition of your release. Also – could someone unwittingly install this on fire exit hardware (which is not allowed to have mechanical dogging), or does it only work on panic hardware?

      – Lori

  12. Jeff Bensinger says:

    I have tried to have this tested but it is a end cap kit and no one will test it unless it is a compelet unit. You wolud have to have a panic device with dogging for this kit to work. please visit us on the web at or see the Introduction to the Quick Panic Release on You-Tube.


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