Simple Locks Can Be the Most Effective Solution for Active Shooter Prevention

As everyone scrambles for complex active shooter solutions, officials should consider the ones that have been effective in the past.

Simple Locks Can Be the Most Effective Solution for Active Shooter Prevention

School officials can get overwhelmed with the myriad door locking solutions available today.

After a workplace violence event, especially an active shooter event, we inevitably see a series of stories about new technologies or inventions designed to keep people safe. This is even more evident if the incident involves a school.

These devices run the gamut from very simple suggestions (my favorite of the last batch was telling people to carry a door stop in their bag) to the more complicated, like door blockading devices, to the extreme, which can lock doors, activate alarms and start cameras from a single button.

I would advocate to start simply, and perhaps staying simple is the best approach to security in a school violence situation.

One piece of information to come out of the Sandy Hook investigation is that no violent intruder has ever entered a locked classroom. This makes inherent sense given that violent intruder events usually end very quickly.

Unless an intruder has a specific target in mind and knows their location, it is highly unlikely that they will make more than a cursory effort to enter a room. This is borne out by the after action reviews of school active shooting events. Even doors which could not be locked, but were instead barricaded, have prevented casualties inside.

Given this fact, a simple door lock would appear to be not only the most cost effective device for preventing casualties during a violent intruder event, but also a100 percent effective solution when used in the past.

Notice, that I said a “simple door lock.” By this I mean literally a deadbolt type lock with a knob that turns to lock. If this is integrated into the door in such a way that the normal door operation also unlocks the deadbolt, the solution is effective without violating life safety codes and can be implemented by anyone in the classroom.

These two statements are very important. Most of the door barricade devices available violate life safety code in that they require someone to remove the device before they can open the door.

The code requires that doors open with a single motion and require no tools. Many people argue that violating the life safety code is a minor concern, especially considering the number of students killed by violent intruders versus the number killed by fires. However, students aren’t killed by fires in large part because of the life safety code. This approach literally increases one risk while not substantially reducing the risk of a violent intruder.

Several studies have noted that there are substantial delays in locking down a classroom (on the order of 30 seconds to a minute and a half) when a keyed deadbolt lock is used. These delays are attributed to the fact that the teacher has to be the one to lock the door. They have to recognize the emergency, find the key and then lock the door all while under considerable stress.

The familiar, simple act of putting a key in a lock and turning it becomes quite complex. This situation would only be amplified when applied to an unfamiliar device undoubtedly stored in an unobtrusive space that probably only the teacher knows how to use and has practiced with once.

Simple locks are not the total answer for security, of course. In fact, they are almost the last line of defense.

There are other problems. Many school doors have glass in or near the door which would allow an intruder to reach in and turn a simple turn-bolt. In these cases, a keyed deadbolt may be the best interim solution until the glass is replaced.  There are also crash-bar doors, for which these simple locks won’t work. However, there are similar solutions for those doors.

After a shooting incident at UCLA in 2016, we retrofit all of our classroom doors with locks that lock with the simple push of a button. There were challenges, some of which I described above, but we currently have a system that allows anyone in the classroom to lock the door in an emergency as quickly as they can reach it. At the same time, the door can be readily opened by first responders when they arrive.

Security is good. Technology is good. New ideas are good. However, sometimes the best solutions are simple, old, and have been right in front of our faces all along.

Art Kirkland is the Director, Office of Emergency Management at UCLA in Los Angeles, Ca. He previously served in the same position at Tulane University in New Orleans. He has worked for numerous institutions as both a faculty and staff member including the US Military Academy and the US Army’s Command and General Staff College.

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13 responses to “Simple Locks Can Be the Most Effective Solution for Active Shooter Prevention”

  1. Well done sir!

    I will leave one caveat. A single locked classroom was breached at Red Lake in a targeted attack. The shooter was going after the teacher. However, as this changes the 100% to 99.99%, I only add it for historical accuracy, not to contradict your points.

    Active Shooter Incidents are very complex events. One thing I learned in the Army is that simple actions are easily remembered, and thus easier to carry out. K.I.S.S.


  2. pat says:

    As a #FirstResponder, I can attest that >>>> Locking up Fire Extinguishers increases #ResponseTime …Longer Response time = more fire damage, or in active shooter situations longer response time = more corpses #ResponseTimeMatters

  3. Well spoken…keep in mind that rated doors can be easily updated to keyed or thumb turn function by just field drilling the cylinder or thumb turn within the NFPA rules for just adding operational elements smaller than a cylinder…kiss method.

  4. MM says:

    I’ve said this for years. All you need is a simple, standard push button locking doorknob on the inside of the room that can easily be unlocked from inside with the turn of the knob, and from the outside with the appropriate key. There are several videos online that show add-on devices being placed on a door that already has an interior push button lock on it. If the lock works, then why add another device? There’s little reason to spend funds that could be used elsewhere on all these other door locking devices that violate the Life Safety Code. Anyone can push the button as needed – it doesn’t have to be the teacher. Fast, easy, inexpensive, and in a lot of cases, probably already on the door anyway.

  5. Greg Mactye says:

    I can certainly agree with Steve Satterly on two of his points – first, this is an excellent article, for which Mr. Kirkland ought to be commended, and second, yes – a K.I.S.S. plan is the best plan. However, in order for any plan to be effective, you must first be certain that everyone is trained, prepared, and “on the same page”, as it were. Unfortunately, it was my experience that teachers who were not interested in hearing the truth, and administrators who were afraid to speak it lest they be chastised by the school board and its lawyers, were a large part of why it is often very difficult to properly and completely train everyone in any single school. We need to begin by acknowledging that in truth there is not such thing as completely “Safe and Secure”, and that if a bad person is determined enough to do harm, they will often, if not usually, find a way. We need to create simple, realistic, workable plans which minimize the damage – not pie-in-the-sky plans which promise that no one will be harmed.

  6. Well thought out. As a Fire Protection Consultant it’s nice to see a reasonable solution that doesn’t entrap students!

  7. Kelly K says:

    As a community member, I am first and foremost concerned with the safety of our students and teachers, but as a tax payer, I am also focused on the use of tax funds in schools. The simple act of locking classroom doors has been an effective measure in keeping our kids and teachers safe and gives them time to take a breath, and execute their lockdown policy. Equipping classroom doors with effective measures to ensure safety protects our students and teachers and uses our tax dollars wisely. #classroomsafetyisthissimple

  8. Kelly K says:

    As a community member, I am first and foremost concerned with the safety of our students and teachers, but as a tax payer, I am also focused on the use of tax funds in schools. The simple act of locking classroom doors has been an effective measure in keeping our kids and teachers safe and gives them time to take a breath and execute their lockdown policy. Equipping classroom doors with effective measures to ensure safety protects our students and teachers and uses our tax dollars wisely.

  9. Paul Reynolds says:

    If you read the Governors Reports, State Police Reports, and Attorney General Reports from states where an Active Shooting incidents have occurred, you will find that many of the “high profile” shootings, such as Red Lake HS, Virginia Tech, Parkland, etc., the monster shot through the locked or barricaded classroom doors. If you are using the Sleeve or other barricading devices, tactically, you (teacher, student) are exposing themselves to being shot through the door while attempting to attach these devices in a high stress situation. Many teachers complain about not being able to use reach a door closer to attach a Sleeve or cut fire hose. This is not a theoretical statement. Read the findings. Many of these products do violate State Fire Codes, ADA and Federal Laws. The Fire Codes/statutes have to be changed. Arkansas was the first state to override the State Fire Marshal and now allows for devices to be attached to the steel door frames.
    One fire in Chicago, which was horrific and resulted in numerous casualties, is the reason we have mandated fire alarms and sprinkler systems. How many horrific Active Shootings do parents and kids have to go through before the government budgets “real” money, not for cameras, which only watch and record an Active Shooter slaughtering kids, but hardening of schools.

  10. Next, walk along the length of cable, straightening it as you go (right). The electricians we talked to prefer this method because they can keep the cable contained in the plastic wrapper for easier handling and neater storage.

  11. We agree. Please check out

  12. Jeff says:

    First, it wasn’t until this 2018-19 school year, 20 years after Columbine, that Fire Code has allowed any teacher in the country to lock their door when an armed intruder is trying to kill their students. If, only if, their classroom door meets the list of requirements listed in Ch. 14 & 15 of the new 2018 NFPA Fire Code. 20 years just to get that approved.
    Second, several of the most recent school shooters have researched prior events, and have come up with plans to beat Adam Lanza’s body count. They know through research and having been through dozens of lock down drills how to beat the door locks, we have been so generously allowed to lock by fire code. One example is the Townville SC shooter. He knew to go to his elementary, no SRO, and shoot the first teacher and take her keys. His experience told him that one set of keys would get him into every classroom quickly and easily. Thank you fire code.
    Finally, I’ve been an instructor in Iraq and Afghanistan, combat veteran 24+ years, my masters in education research was on this issue. School shooters have changed their tactics, they know how and are getting around simple door locks. 20 years later we just now have permission to lock our doors and nothing else. We are way behind the curve, our strategies are way out of date. Fire code is one of the things keeping us from being safe. No student has died in a school fire in almost 61 years. 1958 Chicago school fire was tragic, but we’ve been safe from school fires for 61 years.

  13. I agreed..! and appreciate your work. Please keep posting like these useful post with us.

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