Author(s): Ron Cote. Published on March 2, 2015.

THE NAMES CAN BE HAUNTINGLY FAMILIAR—Cleveland, Lindhurst, Pearl, Westside, Columbine, Red Lake, Nickel Mines, Virginia Tech, Chardon, Sandy Hook. They represent sites of school violence tragedies that will torment the affected communities for decades to come. Another school name, Marysville Pilchuck in Washington State, was added to the list on October 14, when a student shot multiple classmates in the lunchroom, resulting in five deaths, including that of the shooter. The incidents are infrequent, but their consequences, in terms of deaths and injuries and the impact on the broader community, are often severe.

School administrators, parents, and public officials are demanding increased school security in light of these types of school violence episodes. Consensus codes and standards, like those widely used for fire safety, do not exist for use in preventing or effectively managing a school violence incident with the potential for severe consequences. Instead, communities are drafting their own solutions; despite the well-meaning intent of those measures, some of them have the potential to adversely affect the level of fire safety already present in school buildings.

NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, and the other model fire and life safety codes require that doors not be locked so as to prevent egress. Locks or latches must be able to be disengaged so that a door can be opened with only one operation; that operation cannot include the use of a key, tool, or special knowledge or effort. But hardware and related installation and usage guidelines do not exist that would allow a classroom door to be locked against opening from the corridor side while still ensuring the door can be opened by any classroom occupant, or that emergency responders can access the classroom in time to prevent an occupant from causing harm to those within the room.

In December, NFPA held a two-day school security workshop at the University of Maryland. The event was designed to identify problem areas affecting schools as they mesh security with fire and life safety, and to propose short- and long-term solutions to those problems. The more than 60 attendees included the full gamut of stakeholders as identified by NFPA staff who conceived and managed the program: educators, state educational regulators, fire and life safety authorities having jurisdiction, law enforcement officers, fire protection and security consultants, fire and security systems manufacturers, testing laboratories, architects, and technical committee members. The workshop consisted of panel discussions and professionally facilitated breakout sessions for three groups. Each breakout group addressed one facet of the school security issue: codes, security, and operations. Following each round of breakout sessions, the attendees reassembled to receive and discuss each group’s report.


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The workshop facilitation firm, Energetics Inc., is expected to deliver the final report in May, which NFPA will make widely available. The NFPA Technical Committee on Means of Egress and the Technical Committee on Educational and Day-Care Occupancies are expected to address code provisions for blending school security with fire safety when they meet in July and August, respectively, in First Draft preparation meetings that will lead to the 2018 edition of NFPA 101. Upcoming Journal coverage of the school security issue will also help update NFPA members on the process.

Your input on school security issues, as well as any other issue affecting life safety, is welcomed. The closing date for public input on the 2018 edition of NFPA 101 for the annual 2017 revision cycle is July 6.

RON COTE, P.E., is principal life safety engineer at NFPA.