Revisited: Ensure Rapid Egress and Effective Ingress Control in Schools

In September 2017, retrofit published “Ensure You Have Rapid Egress and Effective Ingress Control in Schools and Educational Businesses”. This following reflects on more recent events.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Uvalde and The Covenant School: Since 2017, these and other tragic events in our schools and educational institutions have entered the national mindset and furthered the atmosphere of anxiety and concern in our K-12 schools and colleges.

We’ve seen where weaknesses in controlling or preventing access into school buildings can have devastating consequences (Uvalde). We’ve seen where timely access by responding authorized personnel into buildings and rooms can make a difference (The Covenant School). We’ve been reminded that complying with building, fire and life safety codes is essential. We’ve also been reminded the “human factor” of occupants and responding personnel can bolster careful preparations, and the “human factor” can likewise thwart these same careful preparations.

School shootings stimulated additional discussions relating to door locking and door hardware pertaining to school safety procedures and to building and fire codes. Bringing an existing school building up to current standards or retrofitting a building to deliver educational services presents difficulties that are challenging. It continues to be essential to understand the building, fire, and life-safety codes and their purposes.

The focus of building, fire and life-safety codes has traditionally been on safe egress in the event of a fire. And, this fire safety focus needs to continue. Remember in the Columbine incident, the incendiary devices failed to detonate, and persons intending to harm others can be very resourceful. Learning from events of the last 100 years or more, 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 that complies with building, fire and life safety codes.

Made very apparent with the Sandy Hook Elementary incident in 2012, and with more recent incidents, the need to prevent unauthorized ingress through classroom doors is of utmost importance for protecting students and teachers in the classroom. Thus, there continues to be two priorities regarding the functionality of classroom doors hardware: 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 ongoing 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.

The classroom security lock allows a teacher to lock the classroom door with a key from the inside of a classroom. This lock is effective provided that a person with the key is in the room when the lockdown is needed. Another option is a lock with a thumb turn or push button to lock the door from the inside of the room. These locks allow any occupant—not just the teacher—to lock the door from inside the classroom. Like the classroom security lock, these locks can be unlocked from the outside using a key or other credential.

In addition to typical mechanical classroom and intruder locks, electrical door locking hardware is being installed more frequently. These electrical locks can be controlled remotely by teachers, administrators or other authorized personnel to secure classrooms in the event of a lockdown.

Building code requirements have been tweaked a bit over the last several years. Essentially, the codes continue to require classroom doors to comply with all the long-standing fire safety requirements and to comply with ADA/accessibility requirements; locks on classroom doors must be capable of being unlocked from outside the room by authorized personnel.

In addition, where the building codes and fire codes require doors to be unlocked and unlatched by not more than a single motion (most doors in the means of egress in buildings, such as schools), the codes have clarified that all locks and latches are to be released by the single motion.  

The 2021 IBC and 2021 IFC read as follows:

1010.2.1 Unlatching. The unlatching of any door or leaf for egress shall require not more than one motion in a single linear or rotational direction to release all latching and all locking devices.

The 2021 NFPA 101 Life Safety Code reads as follows:  The operation of the releasing mechanism shall release all latching and all locking devices of the door leaf with not more than one motion in a single linear or rotational direction, unless otherwise specified in,,, or

As in the past, codes do not specify which hardware should be used within schools; instead, it is up to local decision-makers to decide on a case-by-case basis. The kind of lock function desired can vary by school type (elementary school, middle school, high school or college) and room type (classroom, office, library, etc.).

For more information, contact the Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association.

About the Author

John Woestman
John Woestman is director of Codes & Government Affairs for the Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association, New York.

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