Whether you live and work in Utah or not, a bill that is progressing through the Utah State Legislature could help to set a precedent that may eventually affect your jurisdiction (so please listen up).  The bill would allow classroom barricade devices to be used in Utah schools, and to be mounted outside of the reach range required by the accessibility standards and Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

S.B. 87 amends Utah’s adopted building code and fire code (the IBC and IFC) and adds “Exception E,” which allows Group E occupancies to have a second lock on classroom doors when approved by the State Fire Marshal.  The change would allow two operations to unlatch the door and would allow the lock to be mounted less than 34 inches AFF – below the ADA standards’ allowable reach range for door hardware and potentially within the 10-inch clear area required at the bottom of the push side of the door.

The proposed legislation states that the lock is only applied during lockdown or a lockdown drill (how is unauthorized use prevented?) and requires the lock to be able to be released from the outside (is a special tool needed?).  There are no other criteria included in the legislation to ensure that devices can be operated without tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist, with no special knowledge or effort, without requiring both releasing operations to be performed simultaneously, or a mandate for devices to be certified to UL 10C or NFPA 252 when installed on fire door assemblies.  The model codes currently require operable hardware to meet all of these criteria, but the Utah bill exempts classroom locks from these requirements.

It’s tough to watch the available information used in a way that suits a particular agenda, with other relevant information ignored.  The floor discussion of this bill is available online – you can find the video on the Utah Legislature’s website.  At 34:50, the senator mentioned the “11 school shootings so far this year” – a headline that I addressed last week.  A recent Wall Street Journal article looked at those “11 school shootings” – of which the majority of incidents were somehow related to a school or college but were not the type of events that would be impacted by physical security modifications.  The WSJ author concluded, “It is fair to say that distorting reality to advance a particular approach will be counterproductive. This obscures the real issues and antagonizes the well-meaning people who have come together to solve the problem.”

At 34:58 the senator referenced the recent shooting at Marshall County High School, where barricade devices would have likely provided no benefit but may have restricted the immediate evacuation that occurred.  At 35:30, the senator stated, “…because the legislature did not adopt Exception E, every school in this state is prohibited from installing any type of safety devices on the doors that could be used to to save lives during an active shooter situation.”  This is simply not true – the model codes allow doors to be secured, but require security devices which meet the requirements for free egress, fire protection, and accessibility.

At 36:17, I was very surprised to hear the senator reading from a list that appears to have come directly from iDigHardware’s page on school security, where I include links to various state requirements.  Although many of the states included in the list DO NOT allow classroom barricade devices, I think that message got lost in the testimony.  Most legislators probably only heard a long list of states without understanding the specifics of the state requirements or realizing that many of those states prohibit the devices that would be allowed by the Utah bill.

At 37:05, the discussion turned to the school shooting in Rancho Tehama, and the senator said that the police urged others to look at what was done at that school because “their barrier devices saved tens if not hundreds of lives.”  I have read multiple news articles about this shooting, and did not see any mention of classroom barricade devices; California’s codes require locks that meet the code requirements for free egress.  Locked doors prevented the shooter from accessing the school, but these security methods were code-compliant as far as I know.  If I missed something, I hope someone will inform me, but regardless of what type of security devices were used, it was preventing access that averted a tragedy, not restricting egress.

It is critical that we continue to educate and inform school districts, parents, code officials, and others about the need for code-compliant security; a recent article from Domestic Preparedness looks at the views of various stakeholders on the life-safety side of the discussion.  Allowing legislative modification of the codes is a very slippery slope.

More Information:

.UPDATE:  Here’s what happened in the Utah Senate, and at the House Education Committee meeting.

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