Locks save lives.
I’m not talking about wedges, cables, hooks, or other contraptions – I’m talking about BHMA-certified locksets which do not have to be located and deployed during an emergency, wasting valuable time and limiting evacuation options. As we learn more about what happened during the Parkland shooting, it seems that locked doors have once again provided the necessary level of security, and allowed evacuation when the opportunity arose.
Many (most?) classroom doors are already equipped with locks. So why are some schools considering the purchase of retrofit gadgets? Here are my thoughts – if you have other ideas, leave them in the reply box.
- Teachers don’t have the ability to lock the existing locks. Maybe keys have been lost or the key system is out of control. Maybe the school’s policies don’t include distributing keys to teachers, including substitute teachers, and other staff members. This problem is relatively easy to rectify, and likely costs much less than purchasing classroom barricade devices.
- School administrators, teachers, and parents believe that someone will “shoot the lock off.” Although this happens in movies, it has not happened in a school shooting. The Final Report of the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission 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.” I have never heard of a lock forcibly breached by an active shooter – before the shooting at Sandy Hook or in the years since. Unfortunately, there have been several cases when first responders had to breach the door by force because the perpetrator had barricaded himself inside with the victims (Platte Canyon High School, Virginia Tech, West Nickel Mines Amish Schoolhouse). Authorized access by first responders and avoiding unauthorized lockdown are important considerations when evaluating locking hardware.
- The existing locks are standard classroom function locks, which require the teacher to open the door in order to lock it. Many schools with standard classroom function locks have adopted policies that require the door to be kept locked at all times. Although this may not be the most convenient solution, it costs nothing to implement. Schools could change these locks to another function in phases, as the budget allows. Some existing locks can even be changed to a new function without purchasing a new lock.
- Classroom security locks require the use of a key in the inside cylinder, which can increase lockdown time. I read one news report in which the teacher was quoted as saying that her keys were on her desk so she didn’t have time to lock the door. Again, these doors could be kept locked, or the school’s policy could require that the lockdown key be worn on a lanyard. Electronic solutions could be phased in as the budget permits.
- Glazing adjacent to the door hardware may be broken by the perpetrator to allow access to the inside lever. Existing glazing can be addressed by replacing the glazing or applying a film to increase the impact-resistance. Glazing that doesn’t meet the minimum impact requirements should be brought up to current codes anyway, since some facilities have been held liable for injuries caused by non-compliant glazing.
- School administrators are under pressure to do something (anything!) and do it now. Improving classroom security does not always have a long lead-time. A rushed response based on fear can lead to a decision that results in a false sense of security and may have unintended consequences. It’s important to remember that school shootings are not as common as the media coverage indicates. There is time to make an educated decision, and there are many hardware consultants who are available to evaluate existing locks and recommend solutions. If you are looking for someone to help, send me an email.
This story from Good Morning America quoted a Parkland student with regard to the locked doors there:
He praised the school’s practice of locking classroom doors in an active-shooter situation.
“We have had meetings and teachers talking about what to do in these type of situations, actually, pretty recently and had initiatives to lock all the doors,” he said, “and I think, honestly, that worked and easily saved a couple hundred if not a thousand lives because all those doors were locked.”
Good Morning America also shared a teacher’s story of what happened: