Physical Safety

The Importance of Safety Locks for K–12 Schools

Security assessments often uncover inconsistencies that can be quickly remedied.

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 applications.

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 School Planning & Management September 2019 issue of Spaces4Learning.

About the Author

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.