Know-How: Door/Entry Systems

The main function of exterior doors in a school facility is basic: keeping classrooms, offices and other school spaces inaccessible to outsiders without permission to enter and making sure students, staff and others can exit the facility without difficulty or delay when necessary.

How a school or university delivers on those fundamental requirements can involve many decisions involving facility design and equipment selection.

The National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities (NCEF) has compiled a comprehensive safe school checklist that gives administrators guidance on how education facilities should install and equip doors to provide the most effective building security.

The key goal for exterior doors is preventing unauthorized access into a school building. The checklist spells out numerous ways to accomplish this. Exterior doors should have as little exposed hardware as possible; their hinges should have non-removable pins. The doors should be made of steel, aluminum alloy or solid-core hardwood. Door frames should be installed without excess flexibility to deter vandals from prying them open.

Exterior doors should not rely on key-in-knob or other protruding locking devices, the checklist says. Exterior door locks used as the primary means of security should be mounted flush to the surface of the door. Exterior glass doors should be fully framed and equipped with breakage-resistant glass.

For panic-bar latches on exterior doors, install pick plates to prevent tools or plastic cards from releasing the bolt. Exterior doors with panic push bars should have tamper-proof deadbolt locks to prevent vandals or intruders from exiting easily after school hours. Key-controlled exterior doors can be equipped with contacts so they can be connected to a central monitoring and control system.

Exterior exit-only doors do not need handles and locks protruding on the outside, the checklist recommends, but in an emergency, school personnel should have a way to open the doors from the outside — with an access-control card, for instance.

Some other door features and strategies that schools might consider to enhance security:

  • Minimize the number of doors.

  • Equip all exit doors and gates with emergency exit hardware; do not lock or secure doors by other means. “Under no circumstances may such doors be otherwise locked or chained shut,” the checklist says.

  • To detect any outsiders entering a building when students open a door from the inside, schools can install door alarms, sensors or video monitors at vulnerable locations.

  • To determine who is at an exterior door trying to gain entry, schools should consider exterior doors with narrow windows, sidelights, fish-eye viewers or cameras. Position the windows and sidelights so that an intruder cannot open the door if the windows are broken.

  • Install exterior doors that are designed to resist thrown or wind-blown objects.

NOTABLE

1

In inches, the minimum length of a deadbolt lock recommended to secure a school's exterior swinging doors.
Source: NCEF, Safe School Facilities Checklist

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