Safety & Security (Protecting Campus Resources)

Entrapment Hazards

entrapment hazard example


A PARTICULARLY DANGEROUS EXAMPLE of an entrapment hazard viewed from the hallway of a school in India. An aggressor could easily lock students and staff in this classroom after throwing a Molotov cocktail or breakable container of hazardous chemicals into the room. As all of the classroom windows have burglar bars with no fire escape mechanism, this type of attack could prove to be deadly. Similar attack methodologies would work in U.S. institutions where faculty members are taught to barricade classroom doors during a lockdown.

An entrapment hazard is a physical design feature that can allow aggressors to lock students and staff into a space so rapid evacuation is impossible. In developing nations, barrier doors made of steel bars are often used to secure stairwells with a padlock to prevent after-hours burglaries and acts of vandalism. We have found this configuration on some U.S. campuses as well. Also, campus officials have sometimes installed heavy throw-bolts that could be used by an aggressor to lock students and faculty into their classrooms or other campus spaces. Either of these situations would make it extremely easy for an attacker to use fire or easy-to-obtain but deadly chemicals in order to kill occupants once the pathways to safety have been locked.


Increasingly common hazards of this type in the U.S. relate to unsafe emergency-door locking devices and carelessly developed active-shooter training programs. For example, many educators have been taught to barricade their classroom doors during a lockdown so an active shooter cannot force classroom doors open. Trainers often inaccurately purport that breaching of locked classroom doors is responsible for many deaths in the event of campus shootings. As examples, trainees are often incorrectly told that students and staff were killed in locked classrooms at Virginia Tech, Columbine High School and at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In reality, after-action reports on these incidents demonstrate that no victims were killed in locked rooms in any of these attacks.

In one training program we recently evaluated for a client, campus staff had been told that 70 percent of building occupants that locked down had died during a campus shooting. Not only is this patently false, but the information had caused considerable fear and anxiety among staff. This in turn had resulted in a variety of dangerous situations. Our analysts found instances where staff were so frightened by the training that they had made dangerous physical modifications to work spaces. For example, in one campus library, a campus employee was so frightened by the training that she purchased large eye bolts and screwed them into each side of a double-door entrance so she could secure the door with two carabiners and a heavy-duty nylon strap. As the doors were fire-rated, both had to be replaced at a cost of more than $5,000. To make matters worse, when our analyst tested the device she had made, he was able to snatch the doors open on the first attempt.

The training program also included pictures depicting every chair and desk in a classroom being used to barricade a classroom door. In addition to the extended amount of time this takes, this practice can also help an attacker quickly determine which classrooms contain victims.

More Common Entrapment Hazards

Entrapment hazards can also involve physical features that allow one or more victims to be locked into smaller spaces. Lockers, storage closets with hasps and other confined spaces that are large enough for a person to fit in can allow an attacker to force victims in the space and lock them in.

The most common scenarios involve students who lock other students in confined spaces as a prank or as a form of hazing. Probably the second most common scenario involves instances where a student or staff member is locked in a space after being robbed and/or sexually assaulted to delay the victim’s reporting of the attack to officials.

Identifying and correcting these potential hazards can be important. New construction and renovation projects afford an excellent opportunity to “design out” these types of hazards before someone gets hurt.

This article originally appeared in the College Planning & Management September 2016 issue of Spaces4Learning.

About the Author

Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International, Inc., an IRS-approved, nonprofit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety. He can be reached through the Safe Havens website at