School Safety and Security Update from the NFPA - how to protect your school in the event of a violent threat
Current requirements and guidelines around door locking and fire alarm systems from the National Fire Protection Association® (NFPA®) help ensure the safety of students, teachers, and staff in the event of targeted violence threats.
While many of these features are easy to address in new school construction, school administrators and fire officials have asked questions about implementing some of them in existing schools, as they can present challenges. The following questions and answers explain NFPA’s current provisions and how they can be safely applied.
This document also offers information to help strengthen school safety when local officials determine that alternative design options might work equally well.
You are free to download, print and freely distribute this document at schools, day cares, universities and municipalities, as the NFPA is keen to spread this information. Scroll down to the bottom of this article to download the document as PDF.
HOW CAN I KEEP MY SCHOOL SAFE?
Can classroom doors be locked to prevent an intruder from entering?
Yes, the 2018 edition of NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, contains new rules that allow safe door locking to prevent
intruders from gaining access while ensuring that people can still readily evacuate in an emergency. Doors need to have the ability to be unlocked from outside the classroom to permit entry by staff or first responders.
Can classroom doors be barricaded to prevent intruders from entering a classroom?
No. NFPA 101 requires doors to be readily opened from the classroom side. Makeshift devices such as after-market
locking and barricades, wedges, rope, and chains not only violate this rule, but can either slow down or prevent first
responders from quickly entering a classroom, or they can be used by an intruder to trap people inside and keep first
responders from getting in.
Can exterior exit doors be locked to prevent unauthorized people from entering a school?
NFPA 101 permits exterior exit doors (those that lead directly to the outside) to be locked from the outside to control who can enter the building. From the inside, those same doors need to allow people to leave during emergencies. All occupants must be able to exit the building without needing a key, tool, or special knowledge or effort to open the door.
Can a fire alarm system be disabled to prevent it from being used to draw people out into a school’s common
areas and outside?
NFPA 101 requires schools to have fire alarm systems. There are no allowances in the codes to disable them. These
systems need to be maintained and operable to alert the occupants and protect people from the effects of fire. Schools, fire departments, and law enforcement agencies should coordinate to develop protocols for occupant response to fire alarms during targeted violence incidents.
Are manual fire alarm boxes (pull stations) allowed to be removed?
Yes. NFPA 101 permits manual systems to be removed if the school is equipped with either an automatic sprinkler system or an automatic smoke detection system.
SAFE DOOR LOCKING
What is code-compliant door locking?
There are many misconceptions around what constitutes safe door locking in schools. In the most recent edition of NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, there is one option provided for locking classroom doors from the inside.
The hardware for this option is sometimes called an interconnected latch or lock and is similar to what you might see in a hotel room.
In some cases, it has been reported that retrofitting classroom doors with this type of device and meeting its installation requirements can be cost-prohibitive for local jurisdictions.
What are alternate options for existing doors?
If your jurisdiction has determined that a retrofit to NFPA 101 compliant locking is prohibitive, they should work with local code officials (also called the authority having jurisdiction, or AHJ) to identify other acceptable, alternative locking arrangements. The following should be considered when evaluating such arrangements:
• Having doors that can be locked without opening them.
• Having locks that do not require special knowledge, a key, or tool to engage or disengage from the classroom side of
• Installing locks at an acceptable height.
• Having doors that have the ability to be unlocked and opened from outside the classroom with the necessary key.
• Ensuring that staff has been drilled in the engagement and release of locks.
Here is one example of an alternate door locking option; it’s called a dead bolt lock with a thumb turn.
Your Voice Matters
Like all NFPA codes and standards, NFPA 101 is developed with the help of a volunteer technical committee that reviews and considers input from all interested groups and individuals.
Teachers, school administrators, and faculty can play a critical role in determining the door locking requirements for the next edition of NFPA 101, which is now in process.
Share your insights and perspectives, and make sure the NFPA 101 technical committee hears from you!
Visit nfpa.org/101 and click on the Next Edition tab to learn how.
For more information on NFPA’s ongoing efforts to address school safety and security, visit nfpa.org/security.