Crack the Codes: Lock and Life Safety Code Considerations for Campuses

This primer will help to ensure your school, university or hospital selects door security solutions that also comply with fire protection and accessibility codes.

Many schools, universities and hospitals are actively looking for ways to increase security for their facilities. When considering security methods, campuses must be familiar with the code requirements that are in place to protect students, staff members and other occupants. Sometimes in the rush to find feasible lockdown methods, requirements for egress (evacuation) and fire protection are overlooked. With the range of products available today, however, it isn’t necessary to compromise life safety in the interest of security.

During design and construction, most buildings must conform to a building code adopted by the project’s jurisdiction. The building code will include requirements designed to ensure the safe egress of building occupants and the compartmentalization of the building to prevent the spread of fire. Accessibility standards are also included in the building code to provide access and egress for all, including individuals with disabilities.

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When construction is complete, most jurisdictions enforce a fire code to confirm that the safety features established by the building code are kept in code-compliant condition and continue to provide protection over time. The codes may vary from one jurisdiction to the next, but the requirements for door openings are fairly consistent. This article describes some of the code considerations that affect campuses and how to balance the needs of security and safety.

Egress and Life Safety
Doors that are part of a means of egress are required by code to be readily openable from the egress side without the use of a key, tool, or special knowledge or effort. This means that a building occupant can approach an opening and exit freely. Many retrofit security devices, some of which are designed to barricade a door during an active shooter emergency, must be released using a method that is not acceptable by code or may not be manageable by children or persons with disabilities. Devices that are installed on the egress side of the door may also prevent access by first responders.

RELATED: Be Careful When Buying Classroom Barricade Devices

The releasing mechanism used to unlatch an egress door must not require more than one operation. That is why most doors (with the exception of residential dwelling units and sleeping rooms) have only one piece of locking/latching hardware – when a building occupant turns the lever handle or pushes the touchpad of the panic hardware, the door unlatches and allows egress. Most of the retrofit security devices used for emergency lockdown require a second releasing operation in addition to the lockset.

Panic hardware is a latching device that is released by a crossbar or touchpad, to allow immediate egress. When panic hardware is used on fire doors, it is fire exit hardware. Doors in educational and assembly occupancies that are equipped with a lock or latch must have panic hardware or fire exit hardware when serving an area with an occupant load of 50 or more/100 or more depending on the code that is in effect. Methods used to secure doors with panic hardware, such as chains, bars or other devices, inhibit egress and are not allowed by code.

The egress requirements and accessibility standards require door hardware that is operable without tight grasping, tight pinching or twisting of the wrist, and this hardware must be mounted between 34 inches and 48 inches above the floor. Many retrofit security devices are designed to be mounted at the top or bottom of the door, outside of the allowable range, and most require a method of operation that does not meet these standards.

Another concern is the use of retrofit security devices by an unauthorized individual, particularly in a school classroom, as many of these devices are designed to hang on the wall near the door until they are needed. Millions of crimes occur in and around schools each year, and relatively few involve an intruder. Allowing everyone the ability to lock a classroom or other area may lead to additional crimes or a delay in staff response.

Fire Door Assemblies
Fire doors can be identified by the label on the door edge and are part of an assembly whose components have been designed and tested to deter the spread of smoke and flames. A fire door assembly typically includes the door, frame, steel ball bearing hinges, latching hardware, a door closer and often gasketing to limit smoke infiltration. Glazing used in a fire door assembly must be listed for this purpose and is also required to be impact-resistant as current codes require safety glazing for all hazardous locations, including doors and sidelites. When fire exit hardware is installed on a fire door assembly, it will not be equipped with a mechanical dogging feature to hold the latch retracted.

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