A news report hit my inbox a few days ago, which discussed a security situation in a Massachusetts elementary school.  You can read the full article here, but in a nutshell, some classroom barricade devices had been installed in the school in 2014.  During recent renovations, classrooms were relocated and teachers asked for the devices to be installed in their new classrooms.

As I have mentioned before, Massachusetts has a very clear policy which requires code-compliant security (more info here), so the local fire marshal consulted with the state fire marshal and, according to the article, “determined [the barricade devices] no longer meet the Massachusetts building code and recommended they be removed.”  The very last line of the article states, “It is not clear why the locks do not meet the current building codes.”

What is not clear to me is why the news reports almost never explain the concerns associated with classroom barricade devices.  Considering that the Massachusetts State Fire Marshal issued a comprehensive advisory a year ago, there should not be any confusion about this issue in Massachusetts.  This is not new – this is not a question of the devices “no longer” meeting the building code – they never met the Massachusetts State Building Code.  It would be extremely helpful if the news stories would discuss the requirements and help schools avoid spending money on products that do not comply with the adopted codes.

Kudos to the local fire marshal and state fire marshal for enforcing the state codes, kudos to the reporter for not making the fire marshals out to be the bad guys, and kudos to the school district for complying with the fire marshals’ directives.  With that said, this paragraph concerns me:

“Superintendent of Schools Robert Gerardi said because the fire chief was concerned about the building codes, it made sense to remove the locks.  ‘The chief has always been very supportive of the schools,’ Gerardi said. ‘[The nightlocks] are only used in emergencies and I didn’t throw them away because there may be a chance we can get a variance and still use them. Heaven forbid we should have a fire or other catastrophe and those locks were not useful.’ “

Instead of trying to get a variance, I would recommend learning more about the potential risks and liabilities of using barricade devices.  And the last line is chilling…what was the plan for using the barricade devices in a fire or other catastrophe?  Focusing only on the fact that classroom barricade devices do not meet the model codes may motivate code officials or state legislators to modify the codes to remove that barrier.  But the important question is WHY aren’t the devices compliant with the codes?  There are reasons for each and every code requirement, and many of them were incorporated because of past tragedies.  Rather than ignoring all of those lessons learned, let’s rely on solutions that provide security AND safety.  They’re readily available.

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