Normally when I return from holiday break I feel re-energized, re-organized, and ready to rumble.  Today, I’m trying to psyche myself up for a new year full of promise, but I’m getting a bit of a slow start.

This photo points to one of the issues that I’m struggling with – school security.  For almost 10 years, school security and safety have been a main focus area of mine – there are 545 posts on iDigHardware that include the word “school.”  I have collaborated with dozens of experts on the topic of school safety – together we have written articles, taught classes, participated in workshops, conducted research, affected legislation, strengthened code requirements, documented best practices, and more.

I received the photo this morning – it was taken in an elementary school.  The school was full of students at the time, and there wasn’t an active shooter drill in progress.  Notice that along with the panic hardware – mandated by code to facilitate free egress for large numbers of building occupants during an emergency – the doors are equipped with short pieces of fire hose, slipped over the door closer arms.

A few thoughts…

  1. While a piece of fire hose might provide the illusion of security, how much security does this method actually provide?  Which will fail first?  The fire hose?  The closer arm?  The screws for the closer body or shoe?  It’s hard to know for sure but proper latching hardware, whether it’s panic hardware or a lockset, will withstand much more force than the fire hose or some of the other retrofit “security” methods.  Door hardware is tested to industry standards, so we know how it will perform – for both security and for egress.
  2. Some proponents of classroom barricade devices have stated that because the retrofit devices are only installed during active shooter events and drills, the effects on egress and accessibility do not need to be considered – there is the belief that “security trumps egress” (as well as fire, accessibility, etc.) during a school shooting.  In reality, the ability to evacuate is crucial during such an event, AND – the photo clearly demonstrates that these unsafe security methods are deployed at other times.  The doors in the photo have likely had the fire hoses installed for months if not longer.
  3. These doors are not usable except by someone who a) knows that the pieces of fire hose are there, and b) can reach them and remove them.  This violates the code requirements for the doors to unlatch with one motion, with releasing hardware that is mounted between 34 inches and 48 inches above the floor, with no tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist, and with no key, tool, special knowledge or effort.  Current codes also require authorized access from the outside, with a key, credential, or other approved means.  These doors do not comply with the building codes, fire codes, or accessibility standards, and this attempt to add security puts the school at risk of liability associated with unintended consequences.

I hope 2022 will be the year that the experts are heard and their advice followed, with decision-makers choosing proven security products rather than untested methods that don’t comply with the codes established over 100+ years.  Sadly, I predict that the day will come when a barricade device will result in tragedy – either because it is used by an active shooter to trap people, or because it delays evacuation or access by emergency responders.  There have already been several fatal school shootings where doors where barricaded doors prevented law enforcement from entering the secured space, and at least one fatal school shooting where the shooter (a student), initiated the lockdown procedures to prevent school staff from entering the classroom.

Let’s continue to work proactively on this issue – the website of the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS) is a great place to start!  I’m happy to answer any questions or point you to further information, so feel free to leave a comment below if there’s something you need help with.

What are you seeing out in the field?  What other resources would be helpful?

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