Existing school door hardware puts teachers at risk during emergencies

The violence witnessed last year at Columbine High School has led school leaders to plan for a worst-case scenario in their own schools: a “code red” situation, in which armed criminals are loose in the building. As unimaginable as it may seem, such a scenario has happened before, and no one can guarantee that it won’t happen again.

Over the last 20 years, many schools have begun the process of modernizing their doors and locksets to meet new federal guidelines. The major change has been the switch to lever-operated doors in place of doorknobs, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But recent changes in school security requirements have made many ADA-related upgrades obsolete.

Until recently, when a school was built or modernized, the installed door hardware (the handle, lock, and cylinder) was called “classroom function.” Classroom function locksets operate quite simply: there is a key lock on the outside, with no ability to lock the door from the inside. Even when the door is locked from the outside, the door can be opened from the inside.

This contrasts with the more common “exit/entry” function that we’re all familiar with in most home or office environments. In the typical exit/entry configuration, the door can be locked by a key on the outside or a button on the inside. There are a number of variations to this configuration, but the basic concept is that the door can be locked from the inside without a key, from the outside with a key, and the door remains locked from the inside or outside until the lock is released.

“Classroom function” locksets were developed around the perceived safety of children—and the inevitable horseplay that all schools experience. In terms of safety, it was important that classrooms never become locked rooms from which there is no exit. Fire has always been the chief emergency that planners had in mind when they envisioned a classroom of children locked behind a door. And as we all know, a door that can be locked from the inside is a prank waiting to happen when a teacher exits the room.

Today’s concerns have added a radically different issue that is beginning to change the thinking in many school districts. Risk managers, facility managers, and security personnel from districts across the country have a new concern: In a “code red” lockdown, with traditional “classroom function” locksets, a teacher must enter the hallway to lock the door, perhaps into the line of fire.

There is a solution to this problem: a “dual cylinder, exit/entry” function lockset. This function is known as ANSI F88 in the specification books and offers exactly the operating functions that administrators need to address the new security concerns, while still meeting the requirements of the older “classroom function” lockset.

The dual cylinder F88 lockset requires a key to lock the door from the inside or the outside. When the door is locked from either side, it cannot be opened from the outside, but can always be opened from the inside. With these operating characteristics, a teacher can quickly “lock down” the room without entering the hallway. Yet, in the case of an emergency, the door is fully operable from the inside of the room. Because the door requires a key to lock the door, students cannot lock the door from the inside as a prank.

As administrators review the new demands placed on them by a changing school security environment, there are three issues impacting door hardware that need to be addressed:

• Lockset function

• ADA requirements

• Key control and management

When a district becomes proactive with its schools’ security needs, it can address all three issues at once. Using this approach, it would be possible to install a comprehensive key control and management system, change the way the doors function, and meet all ADA requirements with one investment in new door hardware. For between $150 and $250 per door, a district should be able to purchase a Grade 1, dual cylinder F88 “Lever-set” in the desired metal finish.

When developing your security plan, pay particular attention to your key management system and ask yourself these questions: Do I have a system that:

• Can account for the whereabouts of every key?

• Can ensure that keys are not being duplicated without proper authorization?

• Can allow the lock to be rekeyed in seconds without swapping out a core or removing a cylinder from the door?

• Allows an administrator who is directly responsible for overall security at the school to manage key control?

For school districts that are developing emergency plans, the concepts of door function and key control are critically important. When upgrading a school’s hardware to an F88 function, it is equally important to get the keys under control. The high cost of replacing such an enormous amount of hardware means that districts should pay attention to all three issues impacting the project—ADA compliance, door functionality, and key control—when evaluating door hardware upgrades. n

J. Peter Guidi is director of education sales and marketing for Shield Security Systems, developers of InstaKey technology. He can be reached at (800) 316-5397 or pguidi@instakey.com.

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