During this time, frame school buildings started to become more open, made with glass windows instead of walls, became more “green” leading to the emphasis on heating and cooling of buildings which in turn led to buildings being built with windows that do not open. Doors were installed with windows in them and, in some instances, huge man-sized panes of glass next to them. All of these designs have caused a huge gap between what “looks good” and what is “safe” when it comes to a building being targeted.
Codes Don’t Fully Address Terrorism, Active Shooters
Our building codes have not evolved to deal with the twin threats of terrorism and active shooter. What we have now, especially in the area of secondary locking devices, is an explosion of products that attempt to plug this massive threat gap in infrastructure. When fire was confronted as a threat, the answer was to come up with a long term strategy to address the issue. The long term solutions to the problem were based on training all building occupants to respond to a fire and structure enhancements improving evacuation options. These solutions have not changed from the original suggestions put forth in 1947 President’s Conference on Fire Prevention. New technology has been absorbed into the Fire and Building codes without significant change to the original concepts and instead is viewed as enhancing civilian response.
There are several issues with secondary locking devices, the primary one being they violate fire and building codes that have been successful in saving lives for several years. Another issue is that they require fine motor skills. Something as simple as dropping a bolt into a hole or sliding a device under a door can be difficult to accomplish under stressful conditions.
Vendors say that these devices must be readily accessible (I have seen several video demonstrations of devices being hung next to the door). This makes the device also readily available to the active shooter who — in educational facilities at least — is probably a student. It would also be easily accessed by terrorists during an attack on a facility.
Students, if not with staff or if a staff member is incapacitated, will not be able to use lockdown as an option if not trained on the device. Several devices require installation and drilling into the door, which ruins fire ratings, invalidates warranties on doors and violates fire code.
Door Barricades Prove Challenging for First Responders
Most devices are unable to be removed from outside the door by law enforcement, or require special tools or knowledge for removal. Floor bolt holes are easily compromised by daily activity and requiring them to be cleaned out daily by staff is not a failsafe solution to this problem. Not only can these devices be used against us by active threats or terrorists, they could also easily be utilized by individuals committing sexual or physical assaults in the classroom. These are just a few of the observed problems with secondary locking devices.
The real solution should be based on a long term strategy involving training and infrastructure. In much the same way building and fire codes were developed, we now need to further enhance those codes to meet changing needs. The fire codes nationally should fit right in with development of terrorism or active threat building codes, complementing one another. Too many want to throw out the fire codes to make way for secondary locking devices.
Solving the problem should be rooted in enhancing current building codes and requiring better doors and internal locking systems. Several State Fire Marshals have already released documents showing approved doors and internal locking systems that do not violate fire and building codes from reputable door companies.
Fire, Police and Building Code Official Must Come Together
After speaking with several state and local fire inspectors, their general consensus is that most facilities are looking for cheap solutions to solve a long ignored problem. More than one inspector shared that they fear many people without knowledge of why the building and fire codes exist are making security decisions in a vacuum. They have a strong belief that fire, police and building code enforcement officials should all be meeting in deciding what a solution should look like and not purchasing “band aid” devices that do not address a deeply rooted problem of ignored building lockdown security. They do say the solutions may mean slightly more expensive doors and locks but that the expenditure will provide a long term solution that doesn’t require fine motor skills to operate in a crisis.
These doors should have structural integrity, be solid cored, continue to have single action egress without the use of a key or special knowledge and, here is the addition, have locks that are self-contained that secure the door at multiple points in the frame. The building code would also have to include clear design instructions for areas which people would have to use for lockdown. No more glass windows in hallways that allow classroom occupants to be visible. A window in a classroom door should be narrow and located on the side of the door away from the egress handle.
Everyone on Campus Should Be Trained
Training in barricading, using materials already located in the room, to help fortify the location, as well as preparing a response should the area be breached is essential training for everyone in any facility. Barricading in an emergency involving active shooter or an act of terrorism should be a variance under any fire code.
Making improvements to the building code requirements for schools in the area of terrorism or active shooter mitigates the threat to educational facilities, while not dismantling the protections afforded by fire and building codes. It allows for a seamless integration of security measures while not producing a “prison like” feel to facilities. Throwing out fire and building codes that have saved countless lives to use secondary locking devices is not the answer. A reasonable enhancement of the building code, meshing fire with terrorism/active shooter concerns, is the direction we should be traveling.
Lt. Joseph A. Hendry is with the Kent State Police Department