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Author(s): Ron Cote. Published on January 3, 2017.

Classroom door locking against unwanted entry

BY RON COTÉ

Almost two years ago, I reported on the school security workshop organized by NFPA that brought together more than 60 stakeholders to identify problems and develop solutions for the safe installation and operation of classroom door locking devices to prevent unwanted entry. I asked readers for input on this timely topic via the codes and standards revision process that will produce the 2018 edition of NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®. I’m pleased to report that much progress has occurred during the ensuing 22 months.

The NFPA 101 technical committee with responsibility for the chapters on new and existing educational occupancies considered public input and utilized the skills and experiences of its members to draft a comprehensive package of provisions that will permit classroom door locking to be done in a safe manner. It considered public comments submitted in response to its draft provisions and fine-tuned the package of requirements that is presented in the second draft report. The locking means must be approved, meaning that, in NFPA parlance, it must be acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction, or AHJ. The AHJ takes guidance from 10 criteria, specified within the new provisions on classroom door locking, before granting approval.

The classroom door locking criteria will help weed out the dangerous hardware and locking means, currently available in the marketplace, that do not provide safe egress from the classroom. A key requirement is for the presence of a feature absent in the unproven quick fixes being offered—namely, the classroom door must be capable of being unlocked and opened from outside the room via a key or other credential. This will permit staff to respond in a timely fashion to diffuse a threat within the classroom as might occur where an occupant locks the door from the inside to buy time to attack others.

There is a criterion requiring the unlocking and unlatching from the classroom side of the door to be accomplished without the use of a key or tool, and without any special knowledge or effort. For installation of locking hardware on new doors, the releasing mechanism must open the door leaf with not more than one releasing operation. For example, hardware that releases both the latch and the deadbolt via a single operation of the door lever might be used. For installation of locking hardware on existing doors, the releasing mechanism must open the door leaf with not more than two releasing operations. This relaxation of the traditional single-operation requirement applicable to egress doors is offered in recognition of what is practical to achieve without replacing the door.

Another criterion mandates that the locking means must be capable of being engaged without opening the door so as not to broadcast to persons in the corridor that the door is about to be locked against entry. Additionally, the releasing mechanism for the unlocking and unlatching must be mounted in the height range required of latch release hardware like lever handles and panic hardware. The locking means is not permitted to modify the door closer or panic hardware, a safeguard conspicuously absent from some of the unproven hardware being touted as a school security solution. Any modifications made to fire door assemblies must be performed in accordance with NFPA 80, Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives.

The provisions permit the lock to be engaged remotely, as from an administration area, but in such cases the lock must be unlockable from the classroom side of the door. This echoes the long-held tenet that building occupants must have control over the egress system so that they can leave on their own volition at any time.

The criteria include a requirement that the emergency plan address the use of the locking and unlocking means from within and outside the room. Another criterion is that staff be drilled in the engagement and release of the locking means, from within and outside the room, as part of the emergency egress drills required by NFPA 101 in educational occupancy buildings.

The provisions in NFPA 101 for classroom door locking against unwanted entry present a carefully engineered package that combines hardware dos and don’ts with performance, training, and operational procedures. The package can serve as a model to other standards development organizations and to school jurisdictions that have developed homegrown, but in many cases deficient, solutions to their security concerns.

RON COTÉ is NFPA technical services lead for life safety.