From 134 to Zero
Why are there no active shooter barricades in K-12 schools?
- By Dave Geenens
- August 01, 2018
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.
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 CSLS.