The Door Knob Dilemma

Do your classroom door handles have locks on them? Are classroom door locks permitted by the fire marshal in your area? The answer to both of these questions is far from straightforward and the answer varies from school to school and fire district to fire district. Classroom door handle inspection is a standard part of SEC’s site security assessment and we always recommend that doors do have locks that can be easily engaged by staff members from the inside of the classroom.  In our experience, many of the schools and child care centers we visit have not been allowed to place locks on their classroom doors.  When asked “why”, the most common response we receive is that their local fire marshal does not permit them.  When it comes to locks on classroom door handle, security and fire-safety ideas can clash. We advise our clients to be aware of the potential clash and advocate for a solution that fits both security and fire-safety criteria.

Choosing a door handle can seem simple enough, so how can it create so much trouble? The type of handle and lock you choose has many implications for fire-safety and security. Let’s start by looking at the implications of a lock from both perspectives:

Security Implications:

From strictly a security perspective, being able to lock a classroom door is critical to secure staff and students in an efficient and effective manner.

  • Teachers should be able to lock their classroom door from the inside, to keep their class safe from intruders. Sometimes evacuation is not an option, or not the safest option. Recently, a school shooter was stopped in his tracks and because frustrated because the teachers locked the doors so he could not access classrooms. In classrooms with small children where evacuation is much more challenging, this is especially important.
  • Teachers can lock the door from the outside, to secure the classroom during the night.
  • Teachers should be able to unlock the door from the outside so that students cannot accidentally, or purposefully lock teachers out of the classroom or get stuck in the room alone.

Fire Implications:

“Egress” is a critical element of all fire safety protocols — being able to evacuate a building as quickly and efficiently as possible. Door handles should not hinder egress in any way. Locks that you have to manually twist or unlock with a key can hinder egress by delaying your exit out of the building. All outer building doors must have locks, but some fire marshals do not allow any internal classroom door handles to have locks because it has the potential to hinder an efficient evacuation of the classroom.

Can you find a lock that satisfies the ability to evacuate the building without interference, but also has the safety features that allow you to lock the door when necessary? Yes, but it may require additional research and advocacy on your behalf.

The Solution

All schools are required to consult with a fire marshal, and SEC always advises schools to adhere to all fire codes. There currently is no national protocol on locked doors, and different fire marshals have different regulations. We have encountered schools where fire marshals have instructed that no locks are permitted on classroom doors. We recently worked with two schools in the same state in fairly close proximity who had each been given different instructions by their respective fire marshal on this issue.

We believe that there is a solution for all schools, that should satisfy the requirements of all fire marshals and adhere to all security standards. We recommend door handles with a lock button in the middle that automatically unlocks when you twist the door to leave. You twist this door handle in the same motion whether it is locked or not, so the lock does not act as a hindrance to evacuation. In our experience, some fire marshals that originally did not allow door handles with locks ended up accepting these push and twist door handles as a safe and effective option.

Oftentimes in life two “good” causes can seem to be competing. How can you choose just one? When you work to satisfy both causes – in this case, safety and fire criteria—the best results occur. Be informed of your options and advocate for yourself and your security needs when working with a fire marshal. Bring the knowledge that other schools have successfully found a solution, and share all of your priorities and concerns with fire marshals. If you need assistance, please feel free to reach out to SEC. By working together and sharing the knowledge we can create safer schools.


Handling Holiday Season Guests

‘Tis the season for holiday celebrations with family, friends, and schoolmates. Is your school planning any parties or plays or concerts this season? No matter how you are celebrating, your school will likely be welcoming a higher than usual number or guests. How can you keep your school secure during the chaos while maintaining the holiday cheer? Let’s break down security protocol based on the event.

Holiday guest preparation can largely be broken down into two categories – classroom events like class parties, and full school events like school concerts.


Class Parties

If your school invites parents to join in on class parties, there may be an influx of parents that arrive during the same time. With a little preparation, you can welcome all of these parents without compromising your entryway protocol. All parents should still enter through the main, locked door and check-in before heading to the classroom. Assigning extra staff to man the entry can keep parents moving quickly and avoid a build-up in the lobby. You might also consider asking parents in advance to indicate whether they plan to attend the party so you can prepare name tags or badges to streamline the process. It is also always helpful to remind parents of entry protocol before the event so they can arrive informed and with ample time to sign-in.


School-Wide Events         

Many schools will host concerts, plays, and performances after school hours. School-wide events draw more guests than class parties and it would be largely impractical to enforce your standard daytime entryway protocol. Still, there are many ways to maintain security for all those in attendance.

You can deploy permanent staff members or volunteers to man the entrances. These staff members can keep an eye out for suspicious activity and block off certain areas of the school that don’t need to be used for the event. Teachers should make sure their classroom doors are locked prior to the event.

It may useful to involve emergency personnel. If you have a Security Resource Officer at your school, consider inviting them to attend. You can call your local police station to make them aware of the event – they might send a cruiser to scan the parking lot.

At the beginning of the performance, take the time to provide a quick security briefing. Just like at the movies, identify the nearest exits and any other relevant response protocol tips.


All Events

The more people at a school (or any event), the higher the chance of an emergency. Ensure you have medical equipment like an AED handy. Consider that Grandparents attend many school events, and can pose health risks. If an emergency does occur, emergency response teams will need to respond, so it is essential all emergency parking areas are clear. When more people than usual are parking at the school it can be tempting to park in the emergency zones; consider having a volunteer monitor the parking lot to avoid this problem.


A little preparation can go a long way. Sharing your expectations with teachers, staff, and visitors will make for more secure events. If you need assistance planning for your holiday guests, we’d love to help. Best of luck to all planning and attending celebrations at schools this season. We at SEC are wishing you all a joyful holiday season!

Social Media and Emergency Management

In the event of an emergency, how do you get the word out? How do you alert key stakeholders (parents, caregivers, the community etc.) and provide timely updates? Many schools alert the news, utilize robo-call systems and send emails. Government agencies, police forces, and companies have taken to social media as an official means of communication. Can schools also benefit from using social media as an additional emergency management tool? Absolutely, provided they approach it strategically.

As social media grows, so does the opportunity for mass communication. In the California wildfires, the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection notified residents of evacuations and sent updates when they contained sections of the fire. After the terror attack in Lower Manhattan in October, the city’s official emergency management account, @NYPDNews, alerted citizens of the incident, road closures, and resources for families of victims.  Social media can be an effective tool because it disseminates information directly from the source to an unlimited number of people. Succinct, factual and timely posts can be the key to useful pages.

Today, many schools have a social media presence. Some are already using it as a tool to inform stakeholders about emergency events like lockdowns or shelter-in-place. As the social-media generation becomes parents, the prominence and usefulness of social media at schools will grow. If your school chooses to use social media as an emergency management tool, quality is essential. Poorly executed social media can lead to chaos and exacerbate the impact of emergencies.


Guidelines for Using Social Media in an Emergency

It is useful to turn to the Department of Homeland Security as a resource. They provide useful guidelines, which can translate to the school setting. Murch Elementary School in Washington DC posted recently used social media during a shelter-in-place event. Some of their posts are used as examples below.

Develop a Strategic Plan:

  • What social medium platforms will you use? Twitter is most common for quick updates, but Facebook can be effective as well. Check with parents to see which platforms they use most often, if at all.
  • Who will post the updates? When? Does the poster need to get approval from anyone before they post?
  • What constitutes as an emergency worthy of sharing on social media?
  • How will this compliment the other emergency notification plans you have in place?

Establish a social media presence 

If you want your posts to spread news, people must know your page exists, and it must be clear your page is legitimate.

The first part is easy – let parents, teachers and members of the community know that you have a social media page and it may be used to share updates in the event of an emergency. Share your social media plan in your newsletter, and cover social media when you are discussing other emergency preparedness topics.

Making it clear that your page is legitimate is important for more distant stakeholders who may not access your page as frequently (local news, community members etc.). To lend credibility to your page, post a link to your website in your bio, and link to your social media page on your school website, and apply to become “certified.”

Distribute timely and frequent updates 

During the emergency, post updates as often as possible. It is okay to send an update saying, “We don’t have any new information at this time.” News straight from the source (you) can prevent false news from spreading. Manage expectations for posts by being clear from the onset of an emergency as to how often you will be posting. Something like, “We will send updates every half hour, or as developments occur,” can calm nerves and reduce speculation.

 Actively monitor social media content 

One wonderful thing about social media is immediate feedback. One of the biggest drawbacks about social media is the opportunity for false news to spread and cause alarm. Avoid this by monitoring any replies you get to your messages and conducting basic searches for posts relating to your emergency. You can squash any rumors that may appear, but also learn helpful information that you may be able to re-post to share with your audience. Parents, emergency management, or the news may post useful information.

Murch Elementary posted 12 updates in the span of 1 hour and 40 minutes during a recent shelter-in-place event associated with a bomb threat at a nearby facility. Their posts were clear, timely, and took into account parent feedback.

Maintaining a social media presence is a big responsibility. For those that are up to the challenge, it can, though, create an invaluable communication tool between you and key stakeholders during an emergency.