School Security: The Danger of Non-Compliance

Sept. 13, 2018
Many secondary locking products violate code and should not be deployed in schools – find alternatives for your K-12 customers

In this era of school security awareness and the search for viable solutions, you have undoubtedly seen – either on your local news or on the web – demonstrations and deployments of secondary door locking devices that wedge, jam or bar an opening shut.

At first glance, these after-market devices appear to make sense – promising an additional way to make schools safer by providing an added way to secure a door. What those local newscasts usually fail to mention is that these devices almost universally make things more dangerous for students and staff.

These devices are almost always a violation of fire code – a code so effective, in fact, that the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that 1958 was the last time a school fire resulted in more than 10 deaths. There are some cases where a variance to fire code has been adopted to allow certain types of secondary locking devices, but they are few and far between. Nationally-recognized best practices still exist for nearly all jurisdictions – doors must be unobstructed and allow free egress.

Further, secondary locking devices may cause more problems than they solve in an emergency if they barricade doors in such a way that school staff or first responders can no longer open a door. If an individual creates a dangerous situation for themselves or others in a room with a secondary locking device, this can elevate a problem into a major issue.

There are stories where community groups or school districts have found the budget to invest in these types of locking devices, only to be told later that local or state fire marshals would not sign off on the modification. Worse yet, there may be locations where secondary locks are being installed against code and without research into better options.

The quick reaction to find a solution, purchase the product, and install it is done with the best of intentions, and to be fair, the sentiment is absolutely correct – protecting schools with robust locking options is a good idea. The way to do this, however, is to take the right action rather than give in to reaction.

For districts, this means doing the right research and finding the right partners. For security integrators, there needs to be a call to action to form a partnership with local school districts and let them know not only of the concerns and dangers behind these secondary locking devices, but that there are more appropriate solutions available.

Compliant Products

To ensure safety and security in a scenario where an intruder has entered a building, keeping doors shut is the correct instinct – and there are ways to achieve it without violating code.

The first step is to ensure locks remain latched during an assault on the door. Because fire code stipulates how doors must be locked and unlocked, the goal should be to find a reputable manufacturer who can prove that the lock – and the other door hardware – has been tested to withstand a sustained assault with hand tools and with firearms.

This same advice should be followed with the type of door and glass inserts provided – ensure they can withstand both the day-to-day wear and tear of the school environment as well as repel a physical attack.

The most robust opening solutions – which include the door, hinges, locks and other hardware as a single package – should be able to comply with the 5-aa10 test standards based on the FBI’s Active Shooter Report. These standards require an opening to withstand an intense simulated attack that includes:

  • 30 shots of 7.62 mm ammunition fired at the glass in door;
  • 30 shots of 7.62 mm ammunition fired at the glass sidelight;
  • 30 shots of 7.62 mm ammunition fired at door and hardware; and
  • A four-minute attack by a single assailant using various hand tools.

While the door or glass may not stop a bullet from penetrating the opening, the attack-resistant door assembly must remain intact, preventing an attacker from breaching the opening. Further, these openings can be designed using lightweight materials – such as hollow metal – so they can still be operated by small children in day-to-day use.

The result of installing an opening of this nature is that it meets the desire for supplemental protection for individual classrooms while doing so in a code-compliant and safety conscious way.

Think Beyond Classroom Doors

Another solution that can alter the level of need for increased security on interior doors is to rethink a school’s ingress and egress patterns. Reducing the number of school entrances to just a few locations – such as a main entrance, a staff entrance and a cafeteria loading dock – provides a much greater ability to monitor individuals as they enter the campus.

If the main entrance becomes the only location accessible without access control, then a vestibule can be set up that greatly increases security. This location would preferably have an exterior set of doors to enter the vestibule, a staffed check-in setup for visitors to provide identification and reason for being at the campus, a security check such as a metal detector, and another set of doors that exits the vestibule into the school.

This arrangement allows for a reduced number of security staff to efficiently and effectively vet individuals as they enter the building. An efficient setup also allows for quick entrance by students in the morning hours while adding an additional level of security.

Further, a combination of a vestibule with remote or wireless access control systems enables perimeter lockdown to be achieved quickly and effectively. By locking down the exterior doors remotely – and allowing for staff to use their own situational awareness to lock interior doors – it creates a much more difficult environment for an individual trying to illicitly enter the building.

Constant Repair

The final component to integrating the correct products is to constantly monitor the doors and hardware and provide upkeep and maintenance. Schools are high-impact environments and openings can be subject to high levels of abuse. Ensuring that latches are latching, locks are engaging and automatic closers have the correct level of force to actually close is critical to ensuring the building is secure.

Further, check for anything out of the ordinary. Taped-over locks, desks and boxes blocking fire exits and – of course – code-breaking secondary locking devices are often found during routine checks. Correct these issues as soon as they are discovered.

If schools don’t have the resources to conduct these checks and repairs, security service providers can offer it as part of a service contract. This step is simply too important not to execute properly.


Schools can draw on the resources and knowledge of locksmiths, dealers, integrators and other security professionals. If you work in the security industry, offer to build a partnership with your local schools to help keep them safe and secure. In turn, both schools and security professionals should reach out to manufacturers that provide products, training and other resources to ensure success.

Finally, after products are installed, make a point of communicating to the entire school the correct way to implement these solutions for the best results. Practicing using these scenarios through drills is important to ensuring everyone executes appropriately when the need occurs.

Further, fully understanding how these products work helps staff understand why they shouldn’t alter the opening with a door jam or a secondary locking device. If the correct solutions are integrated, and staff executes a response according to plan, these solutions will keep our schools safe.

Ron Baer is Director of Business Development – K-12 for ASSA ABLOY Door Security Solutions. Request more info about the company at