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Jun 25 2019

WWYD? Is a 15-second delay too long?

Category: Egress,Electrified Hardware,WWYD?Lori @ 12:02 am Comments (20)

On June 14th, a shooting occurred at a large “wholesale club” in California, and I immediately started receiving emails from readers about news stories reporting that customers in the store were unable to open the emergency exits.  I’ve spent many hours shopping in these retail stores (and I analyze every door I see), so I’m familiar with the type of hardware they typically have on the emergency exits – delayed egress locks.

These locks are designed to prevent the door from being opened for 15 seconds, to deter theft and unauthorized egress.  To balance the effects on life safety, there are several features that are required by code:

  • Pushing on the door or on the hardware (depending on the type of lock) must start the 15-second timer  when a force of 15 pounds or less is applied for 3 seconds or less.
  • Signage on the door must explain the operation of the hardware:  “Push until alarm sounds.  Door can be opened in 15 seconds.
  • An audible alarm must sound when the delay timer is actuated.
  • After 15 seconds, the door must unlock and allow egress.
  • The door must unlock immediately (no delay) open actuation of the fire alarm system and upon power failure.
  • Delayed egress locks are only allowed in certain occupancy types, with a sprinkler system, and in most use groups only one delayed egress lock is allowed per egress path.

An article in the Press-Enterprise has confirmed that the emergency exits in the store where the shooting took place are equipped with delayed egress locks.  Customers who were in the store at the time did not know how the locks worked, and in the panic that ensued, they did not wait 15 seconds and then exit.  I know what you’re thinking – 15 seconds is a long time when you are trying to escape from a shooting or other emergency.

The delayed egress locks on the emergency exits were reportedly code-compliant, but have been deactivated while an investigation is carried out.  From the article:

Some may debate whether the 15 seconds is too long or too short of a delay, but not Gary White, of GW Retail Consulting in Palm Springs.

“I would say it’s about right, as long as the exit is not blocked or chained,” he said.

“You have to balance the odds,” explained Ron Martinelli of Martinelli & Associates, a security consulting firm in Corona, between something drastic happening, such as an active shooter inside a store, against routine matters inside a big retail space.

What do you think?  Is 15 seconds an acceptable delay when it comes to life safety?  Should the model codes be modified to require immediate egress through doors with delayed egress locks during emergencies other than fires? 


For more information about delayed egress locks, check out this video.

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20 Responses to “WWYD? Is a 15-second delay too long?”

  1. Lach says:

    I think the 15 second delay is still fine. But we have had one of our national customers install into their delayed egress system an active shooter system. That when activated will drop the delayed egress and disable the alarms for immediate and silent egress.

  2. Charles a says:

    So it sounds like this is an owner decision.

    Do we install 15 second delay and get sued because people cannot get out 15 seconds sooner, or install regular door hardware and lose the 15 second notice something might be going on???

    I see no way for a delayed egress door to decide should I release sooner than 15 seconds.

    And you do not want to rely on a human to release the doors sooner.

    • Lori says:

      Hi Charles –

      Someone else commented about an active shooter system that shunts the delay and alarm on the delayed egress locks. Definitely something to think about.

      – Lori

  3. David says:

    My question is why didn’t an employee utilize the keyswitch to disable all electromagnetic locks for the building?
    Here in Canada the code is: “If more than one electromagnetic locking device is used in a building, it is expected that one switch will release and reset all devices simultaneously.”
    As part of the disaster/emergency plan for the building, there should be someone assigned the responsibility to unlock all the maglocks on emergencies outside of a fire.
    However, on the link provided the image of the door shows a local keyswitch; which leads me to believe that there isn’t a similar code in the USA.
    Reference for the Canadian code: NBC 2015, Sentence

    • Lori says:

      Hi David –

      We don’t have the requirement in the US model codes for one switch to release all devices simultaneously. Maybe it’s something we need to look at.

      – Lori

  4. Glenn Younger says:

    Gunshot detection was a big “New” element at last years ISC West. In the past they were mainly used to locate where shots came from. Today gunshot detection can use a camera’s microphones and then trigger a relay to bypass the 15 second delay. This assumes that the bars are hardwired and not stand alone.

    This is the easiest type to deploy in a store setting. WalMart is installing these in stores as part of their every 7 year store remodel. This is a very easy add to a big box retailer. A couple of cameras with microphones gives great coverage.

    • Lori says:

      Thanks Glenn! Delayed egress locks should always be hard-wired since they need to unlock immediately on the egress side during a fire alarm or power failure, so the gunshot sensors should be able to interface with the devices.

      – Lori

  5. Charles a says:

    The doors were indicated to be delayed egress and not magnetic lock.

    No requirement on delayed egress for a separate remote release.

    The key switch resets the delay feature, once the doors are open they have to remain in panic hardware mode and not relock.

  6. Charles a says:

    Glenn how about knife detection? Or bomb detection or???

    That is why I hate the signs “emergency exit” or “fire exit” or ?

    It is a required exit!!

  7. Kent Krauser says:

    Why didn’t somebody pull the fire alarm and release all of the delayed locks? Wasn’t this an option?

    • Lori says:

      Hi Kent –

      I’m guessing nobody would know that pulling the fire alarm would release the doors immediately.

      – Lori

  8. Abul Hassan says:

    Is it against the code to provide battery backup on the Power Supply for DELAYED EGRESS EXIT DEVICES , as this would ensure continued power in the event of overall power failure !

    • Lori says:

      I would not provide battery back-up in the power supply for a delayed egress lock unless specifically approved by the AHJ.

      – Lori

  9. Barry Caesar says:

    Like a lot of postings, everyone thinks that there is a problem, the only time there should be auto egress if a fire not all the time or in an active shooter, what I’ve been saying for the past 10 years, you’re not going to stop ALL active shooters, even if you have one law enforcement personnel per corner, you have to prepare the public of what to do after the attack, if someone wants to commit this crime you’re NEVER going to stop it 100% of the time.

  10. Jim Elder says:

    I agree that you cannot always rely on people to know what to do, but I am good with the 15 second delay. Who would be sued if it was only an alarmed exit and an accomplice simply opened up a back door to allow entry of a guy with a huge cach of automatic weapons. You could “what if” this thing all day.

    I have been in this business for many years and delayed egress is the most effective thing out there. There are many ways– some of which are very simple– to release these doors for silent exit during an emergency– some of which have already been mentioned. I like the “Big Red Button” (BRB)concept which can take the same form as those buttons you see in the gas stations. Place the BRB in the manager’s office and a supervisors work space. Connect to the IDS panel that sends the police when a hold up button is pressed. Use an RF panic button to drop the locks AND send an alarm.

    Fact is, these scenarios can go on all day. I can make as many in favor of the devices as anyone can make in disfavor. I wonder how many active shooter events would have been detected earlier had the access control been better? Note i said DETECTED not prevented. The sooner we know the presence of an active shooter event, the more we can do to mitigate the damage. Also, i know of at least 5 events where the fire alarm activated… either from the gunfire or by a citizen pulling a pull station. Officers complained loudly about the noise of the fire alarm and its interference with communications. Perhaps we should eliminate fire alarms (sure, that will work).

  11. Charles a says:


    Your example, I had to look up what happened at the Colorado theater, he blocked the door open to go in and out.

    People wanted to know why no open door sensor/alarm.

  12. Diane says:

    I sell hardware and even i am not sure i would wait the 15sec. It’s an eternity in a panic situation. If i hit a door and it doesn’t open, i’m heading for another exit. So imagine the General Public. I find it hard to believe that to save inventory, we are going to create a panic in exiting a facility.

    No amount of “signage’ is going to work while people are trying to exit. And as for pulling the fire alarm, i can’t see anyone having access to that information unless you sell hardware.

    Quite honestly, i try to talk people OUT of delayed egress panic devices every chance I get.

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