Ask any security expert the key element needed to create a safe facility and they will likely say planning — be proactive and don’t wait for problems to pop up. A review of your facility’s security hardware is one such preemptive practice that should be conducted annually to engender a safe, secure environment for students, staff and the community.

As the security expert will tell you, the worst time to review the integrity of a school’s door security hardware is after an incident occurs, such as a break-in, theft, assault or fire. Unfortunately, many administrators overlook this vital building component until it’s too late to take preventive measures.

Such transgressions are easy to understand, given the almost transparent manner that door hardware provides safety, security and convenience. Most people take for granted the many functions performed by these devices. People walk through many doors every day without even wondering how this routine task was completed. Some doors allow free access while others require a key, card or pass code to enter; still others may prohibit any passage. It’s all a matter of access privileges and not of interest to most people until something goes wrong.

School administrators can avoid this turmoil by scheduling an annual security review and taking a few minutes to learn the basics of door hardware and how it applies to school safety. There are many types of door hardware, and this field has grown even larger during the last few years with the introduction of devices designed specifically for educational facilities.

A review of a facility’s door hardware is a simple two-step process. Begin by examining traffic patterns of the building occupants to see if there are bottlenecks or other tie ups that impede security. Much of this is predetermined by building design, but door hardware solutions can help manage how the facility is used. For example, a school may have several different entrances, each accessible with the use of a key. One suggestion might be to limit the number of key accessible entryways to one front entrance and one near the loading dock for the maintenance personnel. The remaining doors are used for exit only, forcing students, staff and visitors to use one main entrance that can be easily monitored. This improves security by controlling who enters the building. If faculty areas are too accessible to students, consider a keypad lockset to prevent unauthorized personnel from entering while allowing faculty simple, keyless access.

The second step in reviewing door hardware is to look at the doors themselves and check the function of the doors and hardware to ensure they are operating properly. Are the doors rusting through? Is the latchbolt engaging in the strike when the door closes? Does the door close completely? Is the door monitored electronically?

Following is a description of the different types of locking devices typically used on schools and where they are best applied.

Mortise locksets — These are locks that fit into a mortise in the door edge and typically feature levers to operate a latchbolt. They provide greater torque resistance, security and variety of functions than typical cylindrical locksets. You’ll recognize these by the separate cylinder (where the key goes in) above the lever. They are applied to any door in a facility that requires latching or locking but not panic hardware.

There have been some recent developments in mortise locking functions specifically designed for the school environment. One of these is the“security classroom” function. A traditional classroom lockset requires the door to be locked from the outside, while the inside lever remains operable. In theory, this is great, since unauthorized individuals (read students) cannot lock or unlock doors without a key. But it actually creates vulnerability by forcing the teacher to open the door, insert their key in the outside cylinder, turn their key to lock the door and then close the door. This takes considerable time and may expose the faculty member to the very danger they are locking the door against.

A solution exists. Imagine the same lockset with a cylinder on the inside that does the same thing as the cylinder on the outside, that is, locks the outside lever. You now have a“security classroom function” lockset that can easily be locked from inside the room.

Exit devices — Also known as “panic hardware,” exit devices perform the very important function of allowing safe exiting (or “free egress” in code lingo) from a space, while restricting access. Exit devices consist of a push pad or bar, that extends across the push side of the door. When depressed, the device retracts a latchbolt to allow the door to be pushed open. Think of these as a one-way valve through which people can exit but not enter unless authorized. In an educational facility, exit devices are required on any door serving a space with an occupant load of 50 or more persons. This means that most classrooms measuring more than 1,000 sq. ft. (local codes vary) will be required to have an exit device on any exit door from the space. Additional places you’ll see exit devices applied in educational facilities include locker rooms, pools, auditoriums, media centers, entrances and cross-corridor door. This last type of doors will typically be held in the open position to allow for the free flow of traffic down a corridor, but are tied to the fire alarm system so that in case of a fire, the doors are released to close and latch forming a fire separation.

There are many types of electronic functions now available for exit devices. One of these functions routinely applied to the educational environment is the delayed egress exit device. This device is designed so that a person wishing to exit will be detained for 15 seconds while an audible alarm sounds. After the delay, the door is allowed to be opened. This is an ideal application for media centers, computer classrooms and chemistry labs where material can be snuck out the back door. Delayed egress devices give staff time to apprehend a would-be thief.

Another electronic exit device function applied in the educational environment is the electric latch retraction exit device. This device operates as a normal exit device until power is applied. When power is applied to the device, its latchbolt is retracted, and the door can be pulled (or pushed) open without depressing the push rail or operating any trim, such as a lever. This can be applied to an entrance that may either have a card reader for access, or be remotely controlled by a time clock or other switching device. Some manufacturers’ devices actually retract both the latchbolt and the push rail on the exit device, making the device completely silent when operated.

Automatic operators — Automatic operators provide for the ultimate in convenience and door control. With the simple push of a button, a door can be opened, held open to allow passage and then closed. Most every school has one entrance that is accessible in such a manner to meet handicap codes and the ADA. These entrances are not only for physically disabled persons, but for many situations when a person may not have their hands available to push or pull a door open (ever have your arms full of books?). Many automatic door operators have the ability to be interfaced with electrified hardware such as electric strikes and the aforementioned electric latch retraction exit device in order to provide a complete and secure entrance solution.

Door position switches — These consist of a small magnet installed in the edge of a door, with a small magnetic reed switch installed in the door frame adjacent to the magnet. When the door is opened, the circuit created by the magnet and the switch is broken. This action sends a signal indicating the door is open. These devices have many uses, most commonly to signal a forced entry to an alarm system. These devices are often surface mounted by alarm companies after a building is built, creating aesthetically unappealing conditions and leaving the door position switch prone to vandalism. These devices can be mortised into the door and frame, rendering them invisible when the door is closed. These should be applied at each exterior door and any interior doors protecting valuable spaces such as computer labs, media centers and data closets.

One application common to most schools is the pair of exterior doors. These may be the main entry, the side exit or the loading dock area. One of the preferred methods of securing these doors is using a pair of rim exit devices with a removable mullion. This is a device which is installed vertically behind a pair of doors in order to provide a secure surface for each door to latch into. (See illustration on page 26.) This has three distinct advantages over the alternative of applying two vertical rod exit devices, that latch at the top and bottom of each door. The first advantage is that this application is more secure. Since vertical rod exit devices latch into a floor strike, any ground movement or foreign material in the floor strike can cause the door to remain unlatched when it closes. The second advantage of removable mullions is they require less maintenance than vertical rod exit devices, which may require seasonal adjustments due to frost heave or movement of the doorframe. The third advantage is cost. A pair of rim exit devices with a removable mullion cost much less than a pair of vertical rod exit devices. Removable mullions can also be furnished with a keyed cylinder so that they can be removed from the opening with a simple turn of a key. This may be necessary to move equipment in or out of the building through these openings.

An annual review of your facility’s security hardware is a simple step to ensure you’re providing a safe, secure environment.