Do you remember when Ohio passed a law requiring the state building code to be changed in order to allow classroom barricade devices? If you’re not familiar with what transpired, there’s more background below. If you followed the process that Ohio went through in 2015, you may find this news story interesting (it’s definitely worth 4 minutes of your time) – 21 News Investigates: School Barricades.
“One of the most fundamental life safety systems in any public building is the ability to get out of it,” said Hussey. “So when we create obstructions to that, especially when you’re dealing with kids who might not be able to operate an aftermarket device or operate a complex locking system, then you’ve held them in that environment where they might need to exit a fire.”
“With a door barricade and aftermarket barricade it’s very hard for people to get in from the outside, and sometimes a responder needs to get into that room very quickly whether that’s law enforcement fire or EMS, so it’s important to be able to release a lock with a key from a responder perspective so we can get in and rescue people effectively,” said Hussey.
Reporter: “Do we have devices in buildings right now that are technically legal that make it hard or impossible for first responders to get into those classrooms in case of an emergency?”
Ohio’s State Fire Marshal: “Yes, absolutely.”
In 2015, Ohio’s state building code was changed in order to allow classroom barricade devices to be used in schools. This was done despite many concerns about the unintended consequences of the change. For example:
- After months of discussions, hearings, and research, the Ohio Board of Building Standards published a final report that included their determination: “After examination of current Ohio codes and standards, review of Board and staff research, and in consideration of the testimony presented at the hearings, the Board makes the following determination: We do not recommend any change to the current building and fire codes at this time.”
- Joseph Bergant, former superintendent of the Chardon School District, where a school shooting occurred in 2012, gave testimony including the following statement: “There was a situation in Colorado … where a gentleman came into the school, went up the hallway, went into a classroom, and he barricaded himself in that particular room and ended up killing one child. The police had a difficult time getting into that room because the door opened in the opposite way, and they actually had to blow the door off with some kind of explosive.”
- The Ohio Disability Rights Law and Policy Center expressed concerns in an AP article which stated: “The Ohio Building Standards Board on Friday gave final approval to rules allowing schools to deploy barricade devices in the event of an active shooter, but a disability rights group said they are not consistent with federal law ensuring equal access. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that locks be usable by people with disabilities and doesn’t hold an exception for the devices, according to the Ohio Disability Rights Law and Policy Center.”
- AIA-Ohio published an issue brief which included their concerns: “The leading fire and safety organizations do not think barricades are a good idea, insomuch as they would require changes to the codes. There are potential dangerous conflicts with ADA when the devices are put to use, and installations may make it impossible for children or disabled persons to escape from fire or other emergencies when the devices are deployed.
The motivation for the Ohio law and subsequent code change was that a community group in one school district had raised money and purchased 307 barricade devices that were not compliant with the previous state codes. Parents from the district then called upon state legislators to make the devices legal. After the state code requirements were changed, many Ohio schools purchased classroom barricade devices. In some cases, these classroom doors were already equipped with locksets which have provided a sufficient level of security in past school shootings.
As reported in the story from 21 News, people are now questioning the fire safety aspect of the thousands of classroom barricade devices purchased by Ohio school districts. I can’t begin to estimate the amount of money that was spent to secure classrooms in a way that may be “legal” but may not allow free egress for students and teachers, may not allow authorized access by school staff and emergency responders, may allow an unauthorized person to secure a door and trap victims inside the room, and may not meet the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
How many more state legislatures will go down this path before something tragic happens?