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.