Locked Down vs. Locked In: The Danger of Antiquated Campus Security

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Ralph GoodmanFirestorm welcomes this Guest Post by Ralph Goodman, a professional writer and the resident expert on locks and security at the Lock Blog. The Lock Blog is a great resource to learn about keys, locks and safety. They offer tips, advice and how-to’s for consumers, locksmiths, and security professionals.

It is unfortunate that the need for adequate safety and security measures on school campuses has never been more necessary than it is today.

A school is a place of learning and ingenuity, where students should focus on what they find intriguing and captivating, rather than being scared for their lives on a consistent basis.  While we practice and train for crises, it is almost impossible to plan for the specific date and time when they will occur. While a Predictive Intelligence program will help identify behaviors of concern and threats, there are basic threat assessments and security steps that must be taken.

In most educational institutions, there are security measures which are put in place to deal with a host of potentially dangerous situations. However, without a thorough threat assessment, some institutions may not recognize inherent physical security issues until too late. A perfect example of this can be seen by looking at the challenges students experienced during the UCLA shooting that occurred in June of this year.

UCLA Lockdown 2 UCLA Lockdown 1Many UCLA students had to deal with the vulnerabilities in the school’s security measures first-hand when they were unable to secure themselves inside their classrooms while there was an active shooter on campus. These security vulnerabilities highlight the fact that being on lockdown does not always mean that danger is locked out.

In some of these UCLA classrooms, the doors could not be locked from the inside. This situation presents an extreme flaw, one of which an active shooter could have easily manipulated. In another case, students were only able to lock one door on a set of doors. This forced them to secure the other door through more creative methods.

According to security expert Amanda Robbins, it is common for doors in older buildings to be hard to secure from the inside. Many of these doors were not fashioned for security. It speaks volumes that students, faculty, and staff cannot feel completely safe when they are teaching and learning, and this is a problem that needs to be rectified before it worsens.

Security Vulnerabilities

In order to begin working towards a school safety solution, many of these institutions need to first identify the inherent vulnerabilities that are present within their doors and other facets of their security through a thorough threat assessment. There should never be a situation where students, faculty, and staff are put at risk due to their inability to secure a door against intruders or attackers.

The UCLA website does provide information for students related to this issue: one suggestion given is to use heavy furniture or a door wedge to barricade a door if it cannot be locked and it opens in. While this is needed advice, students should not be scrambling to try and secure a door in a state of panic. In the best possible scenario, the door should be easily locked and secured, to ensure that students and staff are safe on the other side.

It is not unusual to find this “one side lock” vulnerability in many older buildings and institutions – not only educational facilities. In addition, many of the locks on these doors are old and not secure. Again, we saw this clearly as a problem for those UCLA students who had to resort to securing doors with various DIY solutions.

It is critically important for institutions to have measures in place that will help keep everyone as safe as possible and comply with the law. In addition to the vulnerability of locks, the material of the door must be considered. In one classroom on the UCLA campus, students were asked by their professor to stand behind a concrete wall that would help shield them from bullets. This raises the issue about the strength of the door itself and shows that if a shooter were to train their gunfire on a door, they could injure those on the other side.

Even though many students were able to eventually secure their classroom doors, the UCLA shooting incident raised appropriate concerns about the state of security in many institutions. I have always said that it is better to be safe than sorry. It never hurts to be over-prepared, but it is far too costly to be under-prepared.

Security Solutions

The important question that these security concerns raises is ‘how can these problems be fixed’?

First, performing a thorough physical property threat assessment coupled with taking regularly scheduled maintenance checks to ensure that everything is in working order should be a priority.

Keep in mind that the challenge for schools and other public buildings is in entry and egress.

Doors serve a variety of needs and purposes in schools:

From Door Locking in Schools from NCEF.org

■ Exterior doors provide building security and protection from the elements.

■ Interior doors control the movement of people among school spaces, help control noise and air flow, and act as flame and smoke barriers during a fire.

In a lockdown, they serve as safety barriers.  From a security perspective, the most important function of a door is to control entry.

Entry control involves the configuration, strength, durability, and composition of the door, its hinges and its frame, and the control and effectiveness of its latching and locking hardware.  From the standpoint of fire safety, however, a door’s exit function is the ruling factor, one that is highly regulated by building and fire  codes that classify doors  as part of a building’s  means of egress.

Means of egress  is defined as “a continuous and  unobstructed way of travel from any point in a building  or structure to a public way” ―  that is, it is the  unobstructed route from inside every school classroom  or space to outside the building. An  egress door  is  any door along this egress route.  In occupied buildings, egress doors can prevent entry but they can never prevent exit. This iron-clad rule is the product of over a century of fire safety regulation,  molded by numerous tragic and sometimes  horrendous building fires, and refined by decades of  research and experience. Its success is evidenced by the fact that fire deaths in schools are rare

The challenge is to use doors that allow both properties.

For decades, classroom function locksets have been standard for classroom doors. A key cylinder is located on the outside of the door. When the door is locked, no one can enter the classroom, but those inside the classroom can exit unimpeded. The best lock to use on these doors is a grade 1 ANSI deadbolt. Newer classroom security function  locksets add a key cylinder to the classroom side of the door so the door can be locked without leaving the room.

These locksets are designated by their American National  Standards Institute (ANSI) specification, F88. 8. Their  lever-handled version is ADA compliant. Replacement ANSI F88 locksets can be installed for several  hundred dollars per door.  Thousands of schools located in mild climates have classrooms that open directly to the outdoors, as do portable classrooms in all climates. Their doors can be upgraded with exterior grade ANSI F88 locksets.

Also, the lock of the door is only a fraction of the problem, even though it was the one that was highlighted by UCLA incident. The strength of the doorframe is also integral in making sure that everyone is kept secure. It makes no sense to have the highest quality locks being used in conjunction with a poor doorframe. If the doorframe is weak, your door locks are rendered useless, so it is imperative to make sure that both the doorframe and the door locks are in good shape and good working order.

Hinges must be secured as well. If they are not, attackers can take advantage of these hinges to compromise the door and gain access to a room . Hinges can be reinforced by using corrugated pins, safety studs, and setscrews.

The security flaws that this situation highlighted has prompted many schools to look into the possibilities of using access control doors for both the exterior and the interior of their institutions, although this is an expensive solution. In the case that a school did implement the use of access control doors and electronic doors and locks, it is advised to use fail secure doors for the interior and fail-safe doors for the exterior.

Fail-secure doors remain locked if the power goes while fail safe doors do not. The reasoning behind this is that you want to make it easier for emergency responders to gain access to a building if they need to, but to still make it difficult for attackers to gain entry to specific rooms within a building. Many of these additions can be made by consulting with a security professional and a professional locksmith.


Another solution that schools can take advantage of is using shatterproof glass on windows, to help minimize the impact of bullets. However, do make sure that these windows have functional locks so that they can still be used as emergency exit points if the need arises.

There were some students who also expressed the concern that they were not given the opportunity to practice safety drills as they did when they were in high school. In response to this, some security professionals noted that it would be hard to have efficient safety drills due to the sizes of most colleges. However, if the focus were shifted from the entire student populace to professors, staff, and resident advisors, it would definitely help mitigate the risk associated with these situations. Groups, buildings and specific colleges on campus can be independently scheduled with the help of an expert team.


The loss of life in events like this may be mitigated if there are proper security measures put in place. Most UCLA students had to find out the hard way that there were some serious flaws in their security, but luckily enough for them, the casualties were not as high as they could have been. It is important to take security protocols seriously and to make sure that they are always working the way they should be. If we all wait until it is too late to solve issues like this then we are doing each other and those in our charge a great disservice.

Are You Really Prepared to Respond to an Active Shooter?

We are reminded that acts of violence occur everywhere – education institutions (as described at UCLA), public and private companies, places of worship and everywhere in between. The statistics of violence are a wake-up call to us all. Register Webinar Image

What can we do? Act. We have the tools. Does your company, school or church have a workplace violence program that incorporates a complete shut-down after an incidence of violence occurs? Incidences of mass shooting, even if unrelated to your specific location, can close your facility, business or campus for weeks. How will you respond?

Firestorm will be presenting a no-fee webinar session, “Are You Really Prepared to Respond to an Active Shooter?” on Thursday, August 18 from 2-3 p.m. EST. Join Firestorm Co-Founders Harry Rhulen, CEO, Suzy Loughlin, CAO, Jim Satterfield, COO and President and Paul Marshall, McGowan Programs – Senior Care and Active Shooter Divisions, as they explore Active Shooters – are you really prepared?


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