Systems integrators designing security solutions for schools not only have to adhere to often tight budgets while satisfying expectations and delivering the highest possible level of safety, but also must comply with many codes and standards. This is particularly true where it comes to fire/life safety and its frequently intimate relationship with access control systems and devices.
Security plan drawings typically include locations of credential readers, cameras, detectors and other types of hardware the system designer has in mind. The latter could include electrified locksets, panic hardware with electric latch retraction or electrified trim, electric strikes or electromagnetic locks. To avoid hardships and hassles for yourself and potentially your client, it is important to thoroughly review and revise the plan to detect any conflicts between the desire for security and the need to meet applicable codes.
Let’s take a closer look at the issues most likely to be encountered pertaining to schools accessibility, egress and fire protection.
Ensuring Unrestricted Egress
It is uncommon for a card reader to be specified for the egress side of a door that is in the required path of egress. In the case of a particular university dormitory project, the facility manager wanted to restrict egress from the stairs to the exterior and only allow egress during a fire alarm. The purpose of this restriction was to prevent students from opening the doors to allow friends to bypass the entry procedures.
It is a common misconception that a door can be locked on the egress side during normal operation as long as it allows egress during a fire alarm. If a door is part of a required means of egress, it must provide free egress at all times with one motion to unlatch the door with very limited exceptions. When there is a desire to restrict egress, the access control system can incorporate an alarm and door position switch or a delayed egress device may be acceptable depending on the occupancy type and other factors.
The International Building Code (IBC) requires panic hardware for doors that latch or lock and serve assembly and educational occupancies with an occupant load of 50 people or more (100 occupants or more prior to the 2006 edition of the IBC). When access control is required for schools or university lecture halls, for example, the hardware used on the doors is typically required to be panic hardware or fire exit hardware if used on a fire door assembly.
However, school classrooms would not typically require panic hardware unless they were large rooms with an occupant load of 50 people or more. In buildings that are not assembly or educational occupancies, panic hardware is often specified for durability and ease of use.
The IBC and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 101 allow delayed egress devices to be used to restrict egress for 15 seconds when certain criteria are met. However, the IBC does not allow the use of delayed egress devices on doors serving assembly, educational or high hazard occupancies.
In many schools, there is a preference for compartmentalizing the building so that if one area is used after-hours, occupants do not have access to the rest of the building. If the doors in question are part of a required means of egress, the IBC will not allow the use of delayed egress devices in this occupancy type. Alarms could be used to signal when the door is opened, as long as the doors allow free egress. In occupancy types where delayed egress devices are allowed, only one delay may be encountered before entering an exit (IBC) or within an egress path (NFPA 101).
Securing Stairwells and Elevators
Campuses with tall buildings must be especially aware of stairwell codes. When stair doors are locked on the stair side to provide security for the individual floors of the building, recent editions of the IBC require failsafe electrified locks or fire exit hardware with failsafe levers to be installed. These locks can be unlocked by a signal from the fire alarm system or fire command center, while still maintaining the positive latching required for fire doors (a failsafe electric strike may not be used because electric strikes on fire doors must be fail secure).
The purpose of the stairwell re-entry requirements is to ensure an alternate means of egress if an exit stairs become compromised by smoke — the doors unlock to allow building occupants to leave the stairs and find another exit. Although the 2003 edition of the IBC included an exception for stairs serving four stories or less, this exception is not included in subsequent editions. NFPA 101 allows some doors within a stairwell to be locked mechanically and still includes the exception for stairs serving four or fewer stories, but this only applies to jurisdictions using NFPA 101.
Elevators are treated on campuses just as they are anywhere else in the locale. The IBC requires each elevator lobby to have code-compliant access to an exit — typically an egress stairs. If that stairs is not directly accessible from the elevator lobby, a path of free egress must be provided from the elevator lobby to the egress stairs.
In many cases this path will go through another room, such as an office, and may not be ideal from a security standpoint. NFPA 101 and some local codes include a special section for failsafe locking of elevator lobby doors as long as the other requirements of that section are met. However, the IBC does not currently contain this exception. To comply with the IBC, the doors between the elevator lobby and the exit stairs would have to allow free egress, could be equipped with an alarm, or may be equipped with delayed egress devices depending on the occupancy type.
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