Mass. Lawmakers Push to Amend Building Codes to Allow Barricade Locks

Massachusetts school districts can apply for a variance from local inspectors to install the devices, most of which violate ADA and NFPA codes.

Mass. Lawmakers Push to Amend Building Codes to Allow Barricade Locks

Photo: BONNIE C. MARQUETTE - stock.adobe.com

BOSTON — Massachusetts legislators have proposed changing the state’s building and fire codes to allow for the installation of certain types of barricade locks on classroom doors.

The devices, which are metal tabs that slip into a slot and prevent doors from being pushed or pulled open, are installed near access points and are intended to save lives by preventing active shooters from entering classrooms or other areas where students, faculty, clinicians, or others might be taking shelter.

“We have seen shootings where students and teachers have been tragically injured or killed. These barricade door locks provide the technology to be used, on a temporary basis, to create a safe harbor in school classrooms,” said Senator Michael Moore (D-Millbury), one of two legislators who filed bills to amend the existing state codes. “The Department of Homeland Security has determined that properly locked doors can have a significant impact on the outcomes of an active shooter event, particularly when combined with adequate lockdown procedures.”

Under current law, Massachusetts school districts can apply for a variance from local building and fire inspectors to install the devices, Newsbreak reports. However, the devices come with risk because they could prevent individuals with disabilities and, under some circumstances, even persons who don’t have any disabilities from evacuating a building during an emergency, such as a fire. Most devices on the market violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) codes.

Moore said around 20 districts have installed the devices but some have been denied variances.

“In the horrific event that a shooter targets a Massachusetts public school, we must make sure teachers and students have tools available to protect themselves and minimize the risk of injury,” he wrote in a release. “Numerous studies have shown that barricading classroom doors during a school shooting is one of the most effective ways of protecting those inside, but barricading takes time, organization, and able-bodied individuals who can move heavy furniture.”

One of the proposed bills, which was presented to the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security on Dec. 11, would direct the Executive Office of Public Safety, the Executive Officer of Education, and the School Building Authority to write new regulations that would dictate what situations the locks can be used in. The regulations would also need to go through a local approval process in cities and towns, including consultations with fire and police departments, according to WWLP. Additionally, it calls for educators in districts that opt into using these locks to get trained by first responders and for annual inspections of the devices.

“This is not a mandate,” said Rep. Jeffrey Turco of Winthrop, the bill’s co-sponsor in the House. “It’s simply a requirement that EOPSS put in place regulations that allow this, and then obviously, ultimately, school districts can then make a determination for themselves whether or not this added safety protection is something that they are interested in.”

Fire Marshal: Most Devices Don’t Comply with State Building Code

Under the State Building code, all egress doors must be “readily openable from the egress side with a single operation and without the use of a key, special knowledge or effort,” State Fire Marshal Jon Davine wrote in a document the state Department of Fire Services prepared in conjunction with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. According to Newsbreak, additional requirements for school door locks include:

  • No tight grasping, pinching, or wrist-twisting to operate a lock
  • Locking hardware must be installed between 34 and 48 inches above a finished floor
  • Manually operated bolt locks or surface locks are not permitted
  • Unlatching of a door or door leaf must be completed in one action
  • Electromagnetic locks are approved for use
  • If a latching door serves 50 or more people, panic or fire exit hardware is required along the means of egress

Davine noted in the document that the “majority of retrofit classroom door security and barricade devices do not comply with the requirements of the building code,” but that door-locking devices are available that do comply and can “provide a level of safety while still maintaining egress from within a classroom.” One of those devices, TeacherLock, was created by Salvatore and Amy Emma, the latter of whom is the former principal at a Massachusetts school.

“It was a long process,” he said. “We worked with the state and the state fire marshal. They helped guide us through the nuances of the state codes to develop a product that addresses the need for egress as well as one that can lock quickly.”

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Amy is Campus Safety’s Executive Editor. Prior to joining the editorial team in 2017, she worked in both events and digital marketing.

Amy has many close relatives and friends who are teachers, motivating her to learn and share as much as she can about campus security. She has a minor in education and has worked with children in several capacities, further deepening her passion for keeping students safe.

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7 responses to “Mass. Lawmakers Push to Amend Building Codes to Allow Barricade Locks”

  1. This is another example of a misguided effort to, “Do Something!” As in many cases like this, ‘the something’ is unproven, dangerous, or can make a situation worse.

  2. Tim Zagorski says:

    In an Active KILLER incident, we are in Emergency Life Saving Mode and not concerned about ADA or Uniform Fire Code or Life Safety Code compliance. We are trying to protect our students in ANY WAY POSSIBLE. These floor locks are a way to get it done that everyone can reach when the event is over and the Police have taken charge.

  3. Cj Martin says:

    I agree that all laws should be considered for amendments as culture, technology, and world events progress. ADA and NFPA codes could suffer some scrutinizing.

    At the same time, laws shouldn’t be amended out of convenience for others. In this situation, we could be resolving one issue by creating two more.

    I do wonder why there are not active shooter devices readily available that are also compliant with current NFPA codes. I’m afraid convenience would might be the greater reason than the codes being too restrictive. If amendments are necessary, I hope the following is being considered by someone:

    NFPA codes have come a long way to getting fire-related incidents under control and minimizing fatalities caused by fires, especially at schools. If these codes are to be amended because of active shooter incidents, be careful that it doesn’t have the consequence of adding “active arsonist” to our terminology.

  4. Suzanne Gabriel says:

    The Bill as written, specifies that only certain Temporary Door Locking Devices will be allowed. They must comply with specific design requirements regarding performance and safety. Also, ADA rules allow exceptions for temporary interruptions in egress during exigent circumstances or direct threat to life safety of occupants. Recent versions of NFPA, IBC, IFC requirements also allow for variances. Secondary layers of protection are needed in classroom doors. Breaching a door window allows the perp to reach in and turn the locked door knob to gain access to the classroom. Active shooters HAVE breached locked classroom doors and murdered many students. Reference: Red Lake High School MN shooting, Hastings High School St.Paul MN, Aracruz, Brazil teachers lounge, or Childcare center in Uthai Sawan, Thailand Oct 2022, door breached, 24 toddlers stabbed by knife, 23 died at the hands of a former police officer. A single door knob latch is not enough.

  5. Rick Johnson says:

    I think its time to come to the realization that Fire and Building codes established have been 100% effective in protecting our students and staff. As a retired Fire Chief/Marshall coming from an area that crimes involving gunplay resulting in injury and death are commonplace, I’m proud to be able to say that there has been NO loss of life since 1929 resulting in a school fire and that’s a statistic to celebrate. But since those codes were written, they do not address the security issues facing schools today. Many States have found themselves having to do exceptions and re-write codes due to current building and fire codes. Many companies have written their thoughts and procedures on how to protect schools in the event of an active shooter even in their work which is well intended and a lot of what is written is good information but at the end of the day if a gunman make entrance into a public building the only defense is to have a secured locking mechanism to insure the shooter cannot make egress into a classroom. There ARE per NFPA 101 code compliant secondary locking systems that are presently being used in U.S. with more that will be getting on board. Working with Law Enforcement when doing their ALICE training the use of a secondary locking device to insure the integrity of the door not being able to be open is paramount in their training. Right now, more states than not are allowing their AHJ’s to issue a variance to use secondary lockdown devices but for whatever reason have chosen to rely on codes and compliance that DO NOT reference security but only Building and Fire codes and jeopardize the safety of our students and educators.
    It’s time to do the right thing and secure our public buildings and eliminate the rhetoric involved in the use of these devices. I personally welcome anyone to debate whatever their status is in discussing where we are at, and where we are going in making safety improvements in our classrooms.

  6. Paul Anderson says:

    Suzanne Gabriel
    After researching the shootings you mentioned, I find little to no evidence to substantiate your claims. With regards to the shootings in Brazil and Thailand, I would caution using them as examples as the standards and practices in those countries are mostly likely sub-par to the building standards and practices that the US has in place. If you have evidence to substantiate your claims please provide direct links so others can verify your statements.

  7. Suzanne Gabriel says:

    Paul Anderson, what are you afraid of? My Brazil and Thailand examples are relevant.
    The Brazil incident involved an Ex-Police man, stabbing tens of toddlers to death in a day care. There are no rules.
    Why are you against extra security ? Simple, conventional Door Latches are great products and mostly effective, BUT they are not enough. When our grand kids are behind that single latch classroom door, about to be murdered, why rely on only one door knob latch. Extra locking devices or other defensive efforts should be allowed and recommended. Someone of your experience with years in the door hardware industry should know this and welcome innovation.
    Your parachute has an extra parachuted for a reason, in case the first one fails.

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