Our last whiteboard animation video for this year will address the 2018 model code requirements for classroom security. This video will likely be used with school administrators and others who may not be intimately familiar with the code requirements and terminology. I would really appreciate your feedback on the draft script below. What would you add or change to make it easier to understand? Did I make all of the important points? Keep in mind that the length of the script is limited because it affects the length of the video.
There is an additional video here which discusses the options available for securing classroom doors.
Decoded: Code Requirements for Classroom Security [Draft Script]
Security is a top priority for school districts, but most schools also have budgetary constraints. Many retrofit security devices have recently hit the market, with the intention of enhancing the safety and security of students and teachers. While the price tag for some of these security methods may be attractive, there are also significant life-safety implications to consider.
Building codes and fire codes require egress doors to be opened quickly and easily so building occupants can evacuate. Sometimes in the rush to provide security, the codes mandating free egress, fire protection, and accessibility for all are overlooked, but evacuation is an important part of the emergency planning for schools. Some retrofit security devices, also known as classroom barricade devices, restrict egress from the room in addition to securing the room from the outside. In some active-shooter incidents in schools, the assailants have barricaded themselves in the room with the victims, delaying access by emergency responders and possibly contributing to the loss of life.
As the Door Security & Safety Foundation notes in their publication on the liability of classroom barricades (published on LockDontBlock.org), “Storing a barricade device in a classroom makes crimes easier to carry out. When used by an unauthorized person, barricades have the significant potential to facilitate unintended consequences such as bullying, harassment, or physical violence. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the FBI, a member of the student body is most likely to commit violence on school grounds.”
Some proponents of classroom barricade devices claim that security measures should take precedence over fire safety, implying that active-shooter incidents are more common than fires. However, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that between 2000 and 2013, there were 1,456,500 non-residential structure fires in the U.S., with 1,260 civilian deaths and 21,560 civilian injuries. For the same period, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has published statistics on active shooter incidents, counting 160 shootings resulting in 487 deaths and 557 injuries. These statistics starkly illustrate the need for the continued prioritization of life safety.
The most commonly-used model building codes and fire codes are the International Building Code (IBC), the International Fire Code (IFC), and NFPA 101 – The Life Safety Code. These codes are modified every three years by a consensus process, and in the 2018 code cycle, classroom security was discussed and debated at length. Should the code requirements be relaxed in favor of less expensive security? Should the requirements remain as-is, or should additional mandates be included in the model codes?
The outcome of the code development process was an overwhelming decision to maintain the existing egress requirements for classroom doors, and to add a few additional safety mandates. The 2018 editions of these model codes require locked classrooms to be able to be unlocked from the outside with a key or other approved means, to allow access for school staff and emergency responders. The facility’s emergency plan must address the locking and unlocking of classroom doors, and staff must be drilled in these operations. In addition, NFPA 101 requires the doors to be lockable from within the classroom, without opening the door.
Egress requirements from previous editions of the model codes will continue to apply to classroom doors – doors must be unlatched with one releasing operation, with no key, tool, special knowledge or effort, and no tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist. Releasing mechanisms must be mounted between 34 inches and 48 inches above the floor, and retrofit security devices must not modify existing door closers, panic hardware, or fire exit hardware. Modifications to fire door assemblies must be in accordance with NFPA 80 – Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives, and hardware installed on fire doors must be tested and listed for that purpose.
The requirements of the model codes align with the classroom security checklist published by the National Association of State Fire Marshals, or NASFM. Following these guidelines and code mandates will help to keep students and teachers safe, without compromising life safety or fire protection, or violating the Americans with Disabilities Act – a federal law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and sets standards for accessible access and egress.
Fortunately, there are numerous options for locks that meet all of the requirements for egress, fire protection, and accessibility while providing the necessary level of classroom security. The Partner Alliance for Safer Schools has published the PASS Guidelines for School Security which can be used by schools to identify potential threats and mitigate risk by employing the necessary security layers.
The final report of the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission includes many recommendations for school safety, including Recommendation #1 – classroom doors should be lockable from inside the classroom. The report states: “The testimony and other evidence presented to the Commission reveals that there has never been an event in which an active shooter breached a locked classroom door.” Whether school administrators choose to adjust security protocols incorporating existing locks, install classroom security locks, or invest in electrified locks that can be secured remotely, there are code-compliant solutions available. Life safety must not be ignored in favor of lower-cost security.