Several people have asked the same Quick Question this week:
Is it permissible by code for stairwell doors in schools to be locked during a lockdown?
The model codes do allow interior stairwell doors to be locked on the stair side, to prevent access between floors during a lockdown. This is an important security consideration for schools and other types of buildings, as limiting movement through the facility can help to reduce exposure.
With interior stairwell doors there are a few things to consider:
- Most stairwell doors are fire door assemblies, and are required to automatically close and latch. Propping fire doors open with a wedge or other mechanical means is not code-compliant. Automatic-closing devices may be used to hold fire doors open until smoke is detected.
- In educational facilities, the doors leading to the stairwell from each floor must allow free egress – even during a lockdown. The doors will typically be equipped with fire exit hardware (panic hardware listed for use on a fire door).
- With regard to locking the lever handle on the stairwell side during a lockdown, the requirements of the model codes differ (refer to this post for a follow-up):
- The International Building Code (IBC) and International Fire Code (IFC) allow locked lever handles on the stairwell side of the doors, but require electrified levers that can be remotely unlocked to allow building occupants to leave the stair if it becomes compromised during a fire.
- NFPA 101 – Life Safety Code allows lever handles to be mechanically locked on the stairwell side if the stair is serving 4 stories or less. If the stair serves more than 4 stories, electrified lever handles or selected reentry is allowed by NFPA 101.
- State and local requirements may vary from the model codes, so refer to the adopted codes for prescriptive information.
For additional information about the requirements for stairwell doors, refer to the following posts and articles:
- Code Update: Emergency Release Methods for Stairwell Reentry
- Decoded: Stairwell Reentry
- Balancing Life Safety and Security in Educational Occupancies
- iDigHardware Fire Door Page
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Lori. The article you referanced says in the 2024 IBC doors must be capable of unlocking upon activation of a fire alarm signal (where present). This is the whole problem with stair doors in a lock down. I know of at least 5 (and now 6) occastions where the fire alarm was set off, either by occupants using a pull station, or by smoke created by the discharge of a weapon. Being able to secure these doors during an active shooter event is crucial because there is so little time during such events to react. Locking stair doors could prevent travel to the second floor entirely.
Great point, Jim!
NFPA 101 requires interior stairwell doors to unlock automatically upon fire alarm. The I-Codes currently require interior stairwell doors to unlock upon a signal from the fire command center (typically a button pushed by arriving firefighters), but the 2024 edition will require stair doors to unlock upon actuation of the fire alarm as well. The other fire alarm issue with active shooter situations is what we saw at Parkland. When the fire alarm sounded during the shooting, some students attempted to evacuate as they were taught to do in fire drills, exposing them to the shooter.
I know that in some jurisdictions, it is now acceptable to delay the fire alarm for a short period of time, while the situation is assessed. In addition to delayed notification/sounding of the alarm, the unlocking of the stairwell doors could also be delayed. This is an important conversation to have with the AHJ, and will involve coordination of the fire alarm with possibly a panic alarm and/or lockdown process.