Columbine. Virginia Tech. Sandy Hook. These and other tragic events in our schools and educational institutions have entered the national mindset and contributed to an atmosphere of anxiety and concern in our K-12 schools and colleges.
School shootings have polarized political opinions pertaining to gun control and mental-health treatment. Such tragic events have also incited discussions relating to door hardware as it pertains to building codes and school safety procedures. The terms “school shooter”, “active shooter”, and “lockdown” have become part of our common vocabulary and are of constant concern to parents, teachers and school administrators.These issues also are of special concern to designers and specifiers who may be involved in the updating, renovating, and retrofitting of schools and educational facilities. When bringing an old school building up to current standards or retrofitting a building to deliver educational services, it is essential to understand the building itself, as well as fire and life-safety codes and their purposes. In some cases, these codes may not support the requests of today’s school administrators—however, current building and fire codes were carefully and deliberately developed over many decades of experience to resolve important safety issues and should not be neglected in favor of drastic solutions.
Prior to the increased concerns about school shootings, the focus of building, fire and life-safety codes has been on safe egress in the event of a fire. Door hardware, door locksets and codes have gradually evolved to solve problems associated with egress; safe and rapid egress is provided by the proper selection and installation of the builders hardware. Safe egress is ensured by adhering to building, fire and life safety codes.
One consequence of tragic school shootings, including Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, is the need to prevent unauthorized ingress through a classroom door to protect students and teachers in the classroom.
Thus, there are two priorities regarding the functionality of classroom doors: the
first being rapid egress and the other being lockdown. In the event of an active shooter, it may be necessary to make a quick decision as to which response provides the highest level of safety for students.
Fortunately, these two needs—safe, easy egress and preventing unauthorized ingress—are not contradictory and are readily solved through the proper use of classroom door locksets, especially when specified using ANSI/BHMA standards. In fact, the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission Final Report (published March 6, 2015) recommends “requiring classroom and other safe-haven areas to have doors that can be locked from the inside.” The report also states, “The Commission cannot emphasize enough the importance of this recommendation. The testimony and other evidence presented to the Commission reveals that there has never been an event in which an active shooter breached a locked classroom door.”
Intruder Locks and Entrance Locks
Specialized locks have been designed for traditional use in schools for classroom doors. The common denominator for classroom door locks is that a key is required to lock or unlock the door from outside the classroom. The keys are usually held by the teachers, administrators and custodians. Since these traditional types of locks can’t be locked from inside the classroom and can be unlocked from outside the room, it is difficult for mischievous students to lock the teacher—or other authorities—out of the classroom from the inside.
There are two types of locksets that can be employed for lockdowns that make it easy to lock the classroom door from the inside (without needing to go into the corridor): the classroom intruder lock and the entrance lock.
The classroom intruder lock allows a teacher to lock the classroom door with a key from the outside or the inside of a classroom. This type of lock allows the teacher to use a key from inside the classroom to lock the outside lever (with the door closed). This lock can prevent unauthorized ingress through the classroom door—a functionality that can be important in the event of an emergency. It is quick and effective, provided that a person with the key is available in the room when the lockdown is announced.
- A drawback of the entrance lock is that it allows any person within the classroom to lock the door at any time. When using an entrance lock, there is a greater risk of them being misused—by a troublesome student perhaps—to potentially lock out authorized personnel.
Another option is the entrance lock. Because the number of shootings has increased over the past two decades, some schools have decided to use entrance locks for classroom doors. Entrance locks allow any occupant—not just the teacher—to lock the door from inside the classroom using a button or thumb turn. Like the classroom intruder lock, these locks can be unlocked from the outside using a key or credential.
In addition to typical mechanical classroom and intruder locks, electrical door locking hardware is available. These electrical locks can be controlled remotely by teachers, administrators or other authorized personnel to secure classrooms in the event of a lockdown.