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The Doorknob Dilemma

November 15, 2019 jill Blog


Do your classroom door handles have locks on them? Are classroom door locks permitted by the fire marshal in your area?

The answer to both of these questions is far from straightforward and the answer varies from school to school and fire district to fire district.

Classroom door handle inspection is a standard part of our site security assessment, and we always recommend that doors do have locks that can be easily engaged by staff members from the inside of the classroom.

In our experience, many of the schools and childcare centers we visit have not been allowed to place locks on their classroom doors. When asked “why,” the most common response we receive is that their local fire marshal does not permit them.

When it comes to locks on classroom door handle, security and fire-safety ideas can clash. We advise our clients to be aware of the potential clash and advocate for a solution that fits both security and fire-safety criteria.

Choosing a door handle can seem simple enough, so how can it create so much trouble? The type of handle and lock you choose has many implications for fire safety and security. Let’s start by looking at the implications of a lock from both perspectives:

Security Implications

From strictly a security perspective, being able to lock a classroom door is critical to secure staff and students in an efficient and effective manner.

  • Teachers should be able to lock their classroom door from the inside to keep their class safe from intruders. Sometimes evacuation is not an option or not the safest option. Recently, a school shooter was stopped in his tracks and because frustrated because the teachers locked the doors so he could not access classrooms. In classrooms with small children where evacuation is much more challenging, this is especially important.
  • Teachers can lock the door from the outside to secure the classroom during the night.
  • Teachers should be able to unlock the door from the outside so that students cannot accidentally or purposefully lock teachers out of the classroom or get stuck in the room alone.

Fire Implications

“Egress” is a critical element of all fire safety protocols — being able to evacuate a building as quickly and efficiently as possible. Door handles should not hinder egress in any way. Locks that you have to manually twist or unlock with a key can hinder egress by delaying your exit out of the building.

All outer building doors must have locks, but some fire marshals do not allow any internal classroom door handles to have locks because it has the potential to hinder an efficient evacuation of the classroom.

Can you find a lock that satisfies the ability to evacuate the building without interference, but also has the safety features that allow you to lock the door when necessary? Yes, but it may require additional research and advocacy on your behalf.

The Solution

All schools are required to consult with a fire marshal, and we always advise schools to adhere to all fire codes. There currently is no national protocol on locked doors, and different fire marshals have different regulations.

We have encountered schools where fire marshals have instructed that no locks are permitted on classroom doors. We recently worked with two schools in the same state in fairly close proximity who had each been given different instructions by their respective fire marshal on this issue.

We believe that there is a solution for all schools that should satisfy the requirements of all fire marshals and adhere to all security standards. We recommend door handles with a lock button in the middle that automatically unlocks when you twist the door to leave. You twist this door handle in the same motion whether it is locked or not, so the lock does not act as a hindrance to evacuation.

In our experience, some fire marshals that originally did not allow door handles with locks ended up accepting these push-and-twist door handles as a safe and effective option.

Oftentimes in life two “good” causes can seem to be competing. How can you choose just one?

When you work to satisfy both causes – in this case, safety and fire criteria—the best results occur. Be informed of your options and advocate for yourself and your security needs when working with a fire marshal.

Bring the knowledge that other schools have successfully found a solution and share all of your priorities and concerns with fire marshals. By working together and sharing the knowledge, we can create safer schools.

This information is courtesy of Secure Education Consultants (SEC), Their team of highly trained former U.S. Secret Service Agents can design and train your staff on an emergency and critical incident response plan customized for your school.

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