From 134 To Zero

From 134 to Zero

Why are there no active shooter barricades in K-12 schools?

In sporting events, the score often doesn’t tell the whole story. In the search for active shooter barricades in U.S. K-12 schools, this score tells it all. One hundred and thirty-four is the approximate number of fatalities attributed to active shooters in K-12 schools since late 2000. Each one of those 134 people was someone’s son, daughter, sister, brother, grandchild, father or mother, and each one was so much more than a data point.

Then what’s the zero? Zero approximates the number of active shooter barricades in K-12 schools today. The zero also represents much more, and it’s this zero that tells the real story of the absence of active shooter barricades in schools today.

THE REAL STORY BEHIND ZERO

Since 1998, there have been exactly zero reported deaths by smoke or fire in K-12 schools. Why is this relevant? This fatality statistic alone is fantastic, but there’s more. The same forces that have delivered on safety in K-12 schools in case of smoke and fire—the Life Safety code committees that author the nation’s fire codes; the Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s), including the nation’s state and local fire marshals who enforce these codes; and the door and door hardware manufacturers who innovate to make doors more smoke-proof and fireproof— have played a very active and key role in preventing code changes that would make way for active shooter barricades in schools.

Eighteen years have passed since the Columbine shooting in Littleton, Colorado (for which the data is not included in the score above), yet virtually no active shooter barricades are on K-12 classroom doors—a product of the significant efforts of this triad.

Who would have known? The manufacturers and sellers of active shooter barricades to the market did. These innovators have been trying to penetrate this blockade by the triad for years, to little avail. Current fire codes do allow for some form of secondary locking devices on classroom doors if these requirements, among other criteria, are met:

  • The doors are lockable from inside the classroom and both lockable and unlockable from outside the classroom door with a key.
  • Egress needs only a single motion, requiring no key, special tool or knowledge or effort.
  • The height of a secondary locking mechanism is within 34 to 48 inches of the floor for ADA and fire code compliance.

CAN TWO PURPOSES CO-EXIST?

Most, if not all, of the early barricade devices met none of these criteria, though they would certainly keep an active shooter threat out. Many were archaic in design, much like the early-America method of placing a beam across a door to protect one’s house and property. Some are more sophisticated now, using sliding mechanisms at the base of a door, a ratchet and cable mechanism to winch a door shut, a sleeve placed over an automatic door closer to prevent a door from opening or door-mounted posts that can be pushed into a hole in the floor to secure a room.

Some are as simple as a refrigerator-type magnet used to prevent an inside-locking classroom door from being locked as long as the magnet is in place covering the latch hole. These are all still on the market today and are approved active shooter barricades in a few states. But most are not allowed in K-12 schools because they violate current adopted and enforced fire codes.

The AHJ’s have a point. Getting out of a building quickly and in an orderly fashion is essential for the preservation of life in case of smoke or fire. We’ve seen the horror of what happens when egress is restricted— the Oakland warehouse fire of 2016 and earlier club fires on the East Coast provide gruesome evidence.

The reality, though, is that doors provide two purposes: egress from a room, partition or space when exiting is required; and closure for privacy, quiet and security (more specifically, secure-in-place safety). The latter purpose draws us to question the lopsided score. Can the two purposes not co-exist? Not until active shooter barricade manufacturers honor the need for unrestricted egress in case of fire, and not until the triad of code authors, enforcers and door and door hardware innovators honor the need for affordable, secure-in-place safety.

CONSIDERING ALL ANGLES

Here is what can happen when a fire occurs and a non-code-compliant active shooter barricade is actuated on a classroom door: any special tool or knowledge required to open the barricade could restrict egress enough to cause fatalities. Not a satisfactory outcome.

In an active shooter emergency, will it keep an active shooter from entering a classroom? It likely will, since that is what it is designed to do. But what if the active shooter barricades himself or herself in a classroom? The shooter now has hostages with no simple or easy way for authorities to enter through the barricaded door.

What if a mischievous student actuates an active shooter barricade to bully or physically harm another student when the teacher leaves the classroom? Administrators are locked out, unable to render assistance to the victimized student. What then?

These important nuances must be considered by active shooter barricade innovators if they want the fire code enforcers and public safety officers to allow active shooter barricades on K-12 classroom doors. The state of Kansas has been a leader in seeking active shooter barricade options that both protect students while at school and protect occupants in case of fire.

Likewise, code authors, enforcers and door and door hardware innovators must look beyond the effects of smoke and fire in educational buildings. Yes, their track record in that context is excellent, but one could easily argue that their narrow, singular focus and blind-eye to a door’s secure-in-place purpose has resulted in the 134-to-0 score.

Their role in the defense of current fire codes is all but passive. The National Association of State Fire Marshals has issued formal positions through a Suggested Classroom Door Checklist against any secondary locking device or mechanism that restricts egress beyond a single motion. In June 2017, the NFPA 101 Technical Committee, responsible for authoring and amending the current Life Safety Code (the trade name for the codes that detail requirements for passive fire protection and more), heard arguments for and against language that would allow for second-motion egress on classroom doors in educational buildings.

The against-influencers, which includes many fire marshals and most door and door hardware manufacturers, won handily, preventing yet another step toward improving the score and allowing active shooter barricades in K-12 schools. While subtle, the celebratory nature of that win reflects an unhealthy disregard for the 134 or more victims of active shooters since 2000. This buys them another two years of the status quo—while students, staff and faculty die at the hands of active shooters in our schools. Who knew? Now you do.

MOVING FORWARD

The economics of viable active shooter barricades and single latching/ locking doors with sophisticated hardware provided by door and door hardware manufacturers cannot be ignored. After-market active shooter barricades are significantly less expensive to install than replacing all classroom doors with more integrated options, and some active shooter barricades offer greater life-saving potential through instant mass notification capabilities.

The NFPA has fast-tracked its first code memorandum, NFPA 3000, that spells out guidelines for first responders and volunteers in an active shooter emergency. Unfortunately, the document does nothing to pave the way for active shooter barricades in K-12 schools and falls way short of any substantial change to the status quo—no active shooter barricades in schools.

How many more children, students, staff and faculty must die in our schools before progress toward school safety is made? The goal is zero.

This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.

Digital Edition

  • Campus Security & Life Safety Magazine - October 2018

    October 2018

    Featuring:

    • The Importance of Coordinated Communications
    • Technology and School Security
    • Invisible Protection
    • AI Comes to the Classroom

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