The Importance of Safety Locks for K–12 Schools
Security assessments often uncover inconsistencies that can be quickly remedied.
- By Nick Heywood
- September 1st, 2019
Administrators, teachers, and parents
have become increasingly concerned about the threat of
physical attacks against K–12 schools. There have been
countless incidents over the last two decades, and school districts
are justifiably looking for new tools to protect their students and
employees from danger and reduce their vulnerabilities. One
specific area of concern that is often revealed during a physical
security assessment is the classroom door hardware, which is a
critical and fundamental component of the school’s safety and
security posture. It is the main mechanism used by teachers and
students to secure classrooms and prevent people who intend
to cause harm from entering their space. Many of the issues
identified with classroom door hardware can be quickly remedied
with the deployment of best practice products
and the introduction and enforcement of
policies and procedures.
In my experience conducting K–12 facility
physical security assessments, one of the most
common issues identified, and articulated as
a concern of teachers, is the inability for to
lock the classroom door from the interior of
the room. We often observe typical classroom
locksets deployed across facilities that require
the teacher to step outside the classroom to
secure the door on the exterior side. Where
typical classroom locksets are deployed it creates a risk in an active
assailant situation as teachers must place themselves in potential
harm’s way as they secure doors from the exterior side. In many
school districts, we have observed inconsistent door hardware
installations, meaning not all hardware across classrooms and
across the district are the same. We also see inconsistencies in the
approach to issuing keys to teachers and staff, in many cases there
are no current records of whom has keys.
Beyond this, many school districts lack a standard operational
procedure in relation to how doors should function during class
hours. There is often no policy on whether or not the doors should
be functioning in a locked or an unlocked state or be closed or
open. With the seemingly increasing number of campus incidents,
reviewing, developing and enforcing security protocols across a
school district should become the norm. In many cases, an often perceived
standardization of policies and procedures across a
district is not actually the case, as policies and procedures are not
reviewed and treated as living documents.
So, what specific door security measures can districts use to
secure their schools?
First and foremost, doors must have the ability to be quickly
and effectively secured from the interior of the classroom,
either through mechanical or electrified means. There are
several electronic solutions that can be implemented. One
is to include access control programming to orchestrate a
remote lockdown capability, upon activation either through
local lockdown activation (e.g. a mushroom button or through
remote programming). Access controlled locks provide the
flexibility of a lockdown to be managed from
a centralized location either onsite or offsite,
like the school office or district office. An
enhancement of the lockdown solution is
to integrate access control doors with video
surveillance cameras and other security
measure systems including mass notification.
Integrated solutions support immediate
incident notification and communication
both locally and externally to the incident
location supporting early notification and
early response to incidents when they occur.
Integration of systems provides remote ability for facilities to be
managed and controlled from multiple locations using both thick
and thin applications, e.g. security office computer and mobile
The simplest way to enhance existing conditions and
provide interior locking on classroom doors is the installation
of mechanical quick intruder locksets. Quick intruder locksets
are available in both cylindrical and mortise functions and
provide a cost-effective means to immediately upgrade a school’s
security posture. With these locks, a red button is pressed on the
interior side of the door, and it immediately deadbolts the door.
This allows the door to be locked without the use of a key, and
the teacher does not have to step outside the classroom to secure
the door. Free egress is always maintained and access from the
exterior side would require a brass key when the interior is in a locked state.
To support the benefit of investing in quick intruder locks,
we recommend that schools develop protocols for securing
classroom doors in emergency situations. Protocols must then be
communicated to all school employees and enforced districtwide.
However, we believe that school employees cannot be the only
individuals empowered to lock a door during an active situation.
All individuals in a room, including students, should be able to
implement door locking in the event that they feel threatened by a
situation. The quick intruder locksets support the empowerment
of all persons within a room by allowing them to lock the door
from the interior. There is always potential for misuse of the locks;
strong policy and protocol enforcement is required to ensure that
there are consequences for misuse.
By creating a training program, school districts can make sure
that all who spend their days in the school know how to activate
the quick intruder lockset. These locks are simple to operate and
require no special knowledge, however, we cannot assume that
everyone will know how to use the hardware in an emergency
situation without training.
These simple changes in door hardware and school district
policies and procedures can ensure that students, teachers and
staff are provided the opportunity to be better protected from
potential harm during a threat. While many K–12 facilities face
budgetary constraints, quick intruder locks are an affordable
solution that provide an immediate enhancement to the security
posture and are an easy install with simple use.
This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of School Planning & Management.
Nick Heywood, PMP is an Associate Vice President at Guidepost Solutions, a global leader in compliance, investigations and security consulting. He serves as the education sector lead for Guidepost’s west coast offices and excels at performing security and safety assessments within the K-12 and community college markets and developing existing conditions observations into workable solutions that enhance an education facility’s security posture.