Published on January 4, 2016.

ONLINE COMMENTS: DOOR BARRICADES

In our September/October issue, we asked you what you thought of door barricades in schools, devices that could be used to secure classrooms or other spaces against intruders, including active shooters. Our survey question was this: “What do you think about the trend of more schools purchasing these barricades? How would you describe your view of school classroom door barricades?” You also provided dozens of comments, a selection of which appears below. Some of the responses have been edited for clarity.

The comments are posted on NFPA’s new member community, NFPA Xchange. To join Xchange and post your own comments, visit nfpa.org/xchange.

AFTERMARKET DEVICES that modify the designed exit hardware present more conflicts than solutions unless done very carefully. A better solution is door hardware designed with exterior security in mind and always allowing egress in an emergency. If these devices are always engaged out of fear, safety is compromised. —D.M.

NO DEVICES should trap anyone within a room when they need to escape.

Please consider that domestic terrorism is not limited to schools. I recently attended a gun rights policy conference in Phoenix, sponsored by the 2nd Amendment Foundation, and one of the speakers was a pediatric physician. He spoke about the security measures that should be taken by hospitals as well as schools, because hospitals offer a much more target-rich environment and offer no more resistance that schools. Food for thought, the next time you discuss “security barriers…” —P.K.

WHILE WE do live in a world where active shooter calls seem to be a daily occurrence, we must not forget that in a lock-down drill we shelter in place, but schools built over the past decades have different construction ratings, therefore one quick fix won’t solve the issue. First, it needs to be done with all parties involved to ensure that all the main goals are in place to lock them from a security standard and to be able to allow people to get out in the event of fire. —P.E.

MANY PROBLEMS all the way around with this. A school in my area has up to three ways in to any given room and one to the outside. I have already dealt with hasps and locks. Quite an emotional problem. —H.V.

IT’S A FALSE problem: remove the cause (weapons) and we will not be forced to protect ourselves! —H.C.

DOOR BARRICADES are a two-edged sword. While they may serve the purpose of keeping people out, they also prevent people from leaving. Could you imagine for a moment how terribly horrendous it would be if an individual intent on doing harm were barricaded in one of these classrooms while it was full of terrified students and staff who were completely unable to defend themselves? Now the armed criminal has a room full of hostages AND a way to keep law enforcement out. —H.P.

…THE DIFFERENCES of opinion on guns will not be resolved in this code discussion, nor should they be.

The question is, “Do barricades added to the exit hardware of building doors compromise the ability of teachers and students to get out in an emergency?” Remember that the door hardware is designed to exit quickly, since most doors swing in. Getting a door open when a lot of people are pushing to get out has been a code concern since the Cocoanut Grove fire in 1942. Most deaths in fires are caused by smoke, and when there is smoke in the air, alarms going off, strobes flashing, and people pushing to get out, the easier and faster it is to open a door, the better.

In my view, barricades compromise exiting as they take time and effort to disengage. The barricades offer a solution to one problem but I think compromise life safety from a different hazard. Protection of students and teachers should take many paths, but I am not sure barricading people out (and in) is a solution. —D.M.

I DO NOT LIKE the idea of retrofit door barriers. I do like the idea of a secure building, and if the building has glass doors and windows it is not secure. I do like the idea of armed school staff. That said, I have a question: When did the last child die in a school fire? —F.Z.

SINCE MOST SCHOOLS I have performed work in are [built of] concrete block, I think the only real way of doing this in terms of NFPA 101 and fire safety would be a bulletproof or resistant door with a deadbolt with thumb latch on the inside, with a key on the outside (keyed to firefighter access keys) and an electronic release tied to a pre-action panel for the fire alarm system. This way you would have two initiating devices to release by fire alarm—the teacher could release, or firefighters could release for evacuation. I would only recommend this in a fully sprinklered building. If the school is using a voice over speaker system, you could also install a panic alarm button so teachers and staff could activate a voice announcement for notification and use an auto-dialer to notify the police.

This may be costly to install compared to the aftermarket door barricade, but are we talking about safety and security, or at least the feeling of safety and security. This may not be feasible due to cost, construction type, and existing fire alarm system, but I believe in newer schools and in new construction it can be done. I like the previous statement about getting all parties involved to make sure all goals are met. —T.B.

[Referring to the system described above:] THAT SYSTEM would work, but the electronic pre-action would not be within the reach of the budget for most school systems and would be difficult to retrofit into existing schools. The new wireless lock systems may be applicable. The concern with bulletproof doors is that many jurisdictions require sidelights or window lites in all office and classroom doors for internal security monitoring of anyone in the room from the corridor. A narrow vision lite and using a reinforced mortise lock would help, but I doubt visually blocking off the rooms would be ok due to these other concerns. Note that in some school shootings, the perpetrator was a student and could lock out the first responders.

This is a complex issue and there are some good technical fixes described [in the comment above], but I think the aftermarket devices that involve some time and effort to open a door in an emergency are creating a new safety problem while trying to solve another one. In some ways, the safest overall system is a secured corridor door and an exterior emergency exit door out of each classroom without hardware on the exterior. But this will only work on one-story schools. —D.M.

WE HAVE a long and regrettable history of fire tragedies in schools across our country.

The safeguards now in place are the direct results of these very costly lessons and are primarily directed at exit widths and means of egress. Because of these very effective prevention measures, large-scale fire tragedies are quickly becoming lost to history. A relatively new (but not previously unheard of) cause of mass deaths in schools has arisen—the domestic terrorist. It would be a dire mistake to overlook the previously slain dragon of fires/explosions in an attempt to deal with this new threat. If the past lessons are forgotten, we will soon be facing a two-headed monster. We must develop ways to protect our children from multiple threats, past, present, and future. This will take outside-the-box thinking, which is what firefighters do best.

One such idea might be a storm cellar type shelter-in-place capability. It would be accessible from locked classrooms through a tunnel system, and would include a remotely located fresh air supply, water, sewer, stored food, etc. This system could protect people indefinitely from fire, gunfire, explosions, domestic unrest, storms, etc. —D.R.

RISK A LOT to save a lot!” I believe that is our credo as firefighters, and I believe that it might apply here for teachers or school administrators when encountering an active shooter.

As one of the instructors for my department’s active shooter program, I have yet to hear many if any anecdotal reports where an active shooter incident resulted in the loss of lives because victims could not escape out of the room they barricaded or locked themselves into, either by fire, IED, or other methods of attack. Notwithstanding a complex attack like Mumbai, Beslan, or the Nairobi Mall attack, where fire was used as a weapon.

With training, instruction, and policies in place, I believe we can reasonably navigate the risk of barricading or applying a locking mechanism to save lives and minimize the risk of other anomalies like fire, IEDs, or responders not being able to make entry. —R.S.

A CLASSROOM barrier does not have to be elaborate. That was proven at Virginia Tech, where the killer skipped classrooms where the doors were blocked by desks and other furniture. The killers want body count and cannot spend time on overcoming a locked door. Windows in a door should prevent breaking the glass and opening the door. The best way to avoid a killer in a school or any other setting is to get out of the building if possible—break windows and jump out, if you’re on the first floor. A locked, substantial door is sufficient.

Students and teachers have to be able to get out past a barricaded door. I suggest a system to alert everyone when a shooter is in the building, provide the location of the shooter, and for the alarm to go into a shooter-on-site plan.

It’s the 4 Ds: Deter, detect, delay, and defeat. The last two are critical. —F.Z.

FORGIVE ME, but I see things differently. Rather than concluding that we actually need door barriers, I wish this collaboration of brain power could come up with out-of-the-box solutions.

If we examine the root cause of the problem, it would appear that someone gained access to the building with intent to do harm. If we concentrate on securing individual interior doors, we really haven’t found the answer, have we?

I went to school in New York City. Back in the day, schools were closed to the outside—nobody just walked in. It seems like today, we allow children to come and go as they please. What’s to keep any undesirables out?

We probably don’t want to upset our children by imposing rules like making them stay in school behind secured doors, with perhaps retired police officers acting as hall monitors. But I bet those schools wouldn’t be targets. —P.K.