Time=Life, getting the school facilities locked down quickly.
A: One of the key elements to survival of a violent incident, like an Active Shooter in a school, is to act quickly and get the room locked down. For most schools this is part of the emergency drill practice, unfortunately many of our schools are not equipped with the best types of door locks for this emergency response.
I have seen so many schools with door locks that require the teacher or staff member to go out into the hallway, into the killing zone, to lock their door using a key. This is not safe; during the attack at the Sandy Hook School the doors were set up this way.
When we look at human response to a violent event, we find that one of the first things a person loses during this kind of event are their fine motor skills, like putting a key in a door lock; it’s not going to happen under this kind of stress.
This reality forces us to look at how we can better lock down, here are some options:
1- Change out the door locks on every classroom door to the type that have a large “Thumb Turn” inside the classroom. This allows the teacher to use large motor skills and flip the lock into place. The down side of this option is that changing all the locks on every classroom door in your school is very expensive.
2- Keep the classroom doors locked and closed at all times. This option provides teachers with knowledge that in an emergency their door is already locked, but as every teacher will tell you, keeping the hallway door locked at all times is not as easy as it sounds. Kids have to come and go throughout the class period and stopping to open the door to readmit them is a distraction. While this is a better option than locking the door with a key in the hallway and it doesn’t require buying new locks, it is still not a great answer.
3- Automatic electronic door locks that are activated remotely, usually from the main office during an emergency. Someone activates the system and all the door locks engage at once. This can be very fast, if the person who is supposed to lock the door is able to do so. This type of system is used on some new school construction projects, but this is very expensive to do in a retro fit. A down side is that once the doors are locked any student or staff member in the hallway has to find an open door or have someone open their door to let them in.
4- Door magnets. These are very simple, very effective, very fast and very inexpensive for the amount of classroom security they provide. A classroom door magnet is a magnet specially designed to fit on the frame of the classroom door over the hole where the throw engages the lock. The magnet prevents the door from latching closed in this position. The door lock itself is placed in the “locked” position by the teacher at the start of the school day. With the magnet in place, kids can come and go from the room very easily as if the door were not locked at all. In an emergency the teacher or a student simply slides the magnet out of the way and closes the door. Since the door is already in the lock position the throw pops into place and the door is secured. This is done from inside the classroom very quickly. At an average cost of $5 they are an economically viable option for most districts.
Some Fire Personnel have expressed concern that during a fire the magnet could expand and prevent the door from opening. This might be true but the incidents of fires in schools are very rare and if there was a fire the kids and teachers would evacuate before the flames reached the classroom. When I look at the actual events in schools today, I see the chances of an Active Shooter attack being much greater than a fire so I would be very comfortable with my child’s classroom door being equipped with a magnet for fast lock down rather than hoping his teacher could get a key into a lock during a shooting incident.