Last month, I wrote about a proposed change to NFPA 101 – The Life Safety Code, that would allow two operations to release the latch on existing doors. At NFPA’s technical meeting, the NFPA voters chose to maintain the current requirement of one operation, rather than approving the change to two operations. Shortly after the vote, two appeals were filed, attempting to overturn the one-operation language that was approved at the technical meeting, in favor of allowing two releasing operations. I have been hoping to share those appeals with you here, but they have not been posted on NFPA’s website yet. As soon as I can share them, I will.
Meanwhile, Joseph Hendry Jr., PSP, CLEE has written the guest blog post below, to share his experience in law enforcement regarding human behavior in an emergency. This relates directly to the question of whether NFPA 101 should continue to limit egress doors to one releasing operation or should allow two operations to release the latch. Thank you Joe!
Why two-operation release is not an option – Joseph Hendry Jr., PSP, CLEE
For the past several years I have trained civilians and law enforcement officers in active-threat response and achieved board certification from ASIS International as a Physical Security Professional. I have seen thousands of individuals respond to stress in training. As an instructor, it is imperative to study human response in scenarios and correlate it with what medical studies are saying about brain processing under stress. The reason that two-operation release should not be an option is a very simple one. Science.
I have observed civilians, law enforcement, and military personnel – in training – overcome with stimulus that renders their abilities to act and react impossible. They cannot grasp with their hands, accurately shoot, identify targets or speak. In fact, highly trained personnel cannot shoot accurately when a small Nerf ball is thrown at their face, even if they know it is a Nerf ball, that it will not hurt them, and they have been instructed to stay on target and not move. Their brain simply will not let them.
Extensive brain studies by Dr. Earl K. Miller, PHD, Picower Professor of Neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, show that humans have no ability to multitask. This should heavily influence our analytical thought process when considering how to look at this issue. While many focus on the amygdala, which warns of danger, Dr. Miller focuses his studies on the prefrontal cortex, which processes the danger.
Dr. Miller has scientifically proven that the brain is ill equipped to handle sensory overload, which is something that will happen quickly in any crisis, be it a fire or an active threat. This exacerbates the problem of our inability to pay attention to two things at once. We address this issue in fire training at a very young age. Even though we teach stop, drop, and roll to children, we know through previous incidents they may panic and forget these simple steps – even when they become adults. So, we then train other children to smother the flames using coats, blankets, or even themselves to respond to this inability of brain processing. In active-threat response, we train everyone to respond, because we know suspects can only focus on one thing at a time and that movement, noise, and distraction by large numbers of people will mitigate casualties.
The process of attempting to focus on more than one thing, according to Dr. Miller, leads to cognitive stumbling. Therefore, the single-operation release is the only answer. Because switching from one task to another under stress easily leads to errors and mistakes. This, in a crisis, could easily turn deadly. Since most suspects are already in contact with victims and inside schools, businesses, houses of worship, etc., people attempting to exit a room while in contact with a suspect shooting at them or using fire as a weapon would lack the cognitive skills to successfully perform two separate operations to unlatch the door.
Two-operation release would place an undue burden on people in crisis who are already experiencing high levels of stress impairing their fine motor skills. This observation easily explains the change from the 1985 Life Safety Code (i.e., “other simple type of releasing device”) to the 1988 Life Safety Code (i.e., “no more than one releasing operation”). Prefrontal cortex medical science proves that this change remains correct. The inability to perform more than one (simple) operation degrades under stress so significantly that two-operation release does not bear considering.
Given the fact that the Life Safety Code is already met by single-operation releasing devices that serve protective functions, there is no reason to make people’s survival more complicated, dangerous, and prone to failure.