By Sheri L. Singer
There were 94 acts of school gun violence in the United States in 2018, which is 59% higher than the previous record of 59 in 2006, according to a U.S. Naval Postgraduate study. Emotionally charged and complex issues surround the challenge of stopping or preventing school shootings. But we all agree we need to keep our students, teachers and administrators safe at school.
To this end, school boards and other authorities are desperately seeking quick, inexpensive fixes to keep kids, teachers and administrators secure in schools. But installing barricade devices can create unintended consequences and, in most cases, are not code compliant.
“After a school shooting incident, parents, teachers, administrators and elected officials believe that they must do something — anything — so they often turn to quick fixes such as barricade devices that they mistakenly think are better than nothing,” says Jerry S. Heppes Sr., CAE, CEO of DHI and DSSF. “One of our goals is to educate stakeholders about the issues surrounding barricade devices.”
Barricade devices may produce unintended consequences. This is particularly true in circumstances where students are locked in a classroom with the shooter, or when first responders are unable to get into a classroom to evacuate students during a shooting or fire. Likewise, a barricade device may keep a student trapped in a room with a bully, or result in a sexual assault scenario in which the victim cannot escape, or lead to additional unintended consequences. (For statistics, go to www.lockdontblock.org.)
For these reasons, the Door Security & Safety Foundation (DSSF) launched the “Opening the Door to School Safety” campaign in 2016. The campaign explains the dangers and unintended consequences of using barricade devices as a means of keeping students, teachers and administrators safe during a shooting incident.
In fact, sometimes the door needs to be open for school safety, and sometimes it needs to be closed for security. Additionally, it’s important to understand that code-compliant hardware exists, which can address concerns for both life safety and security, as well as budget, for our classrooms. The campaign’s tagline — Lock Don’t Block — is used for the website (www.lockdontblock.org), social media hashtag (#lockdontblock) and referenced in the campaign materials.
The centerpiece of the initial 2016 campaign was a new website and a video that included quotes from two experts outside of the industry, a state fire marshal and a school security expert, who explained the unintended consequences of classroom door barricade devices.
“Through the campaign, DSSF has been able to create collaborations with like-minded organizations,” says Sharon Newport, CAE, executive director of DSSF and vice president of operations for DHI. “Among these organizations are Safe and Sound Schools, National Fire Protection Association, National Association of State Fire Marshals, Partner Alliance for Safer Schools, AASA – The School Superintendents Association and the Secure Schools Alliance. We look forward to expanding our efforts in the future.” In addition to these collaborative efforts, DHI/DSSF was instrumental in the NFPA 3000 Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) program.
While the Opening the Door to School Safety campaign remains focused on explaining the dangers of barricade devices to decision makers and stakeholders, the sudden explosion of policy changes permitting barricade devices to be installed in school classrooms requires DSSF to be even more proactive.
“These policy changes set a dangerous precedent — one that DSSF and our partners are attempting to stop,” Newport says. “This is why we need more local and regional efforts, and that’s where our members and stakeholders can help.” To respond to this plethora of policy changes, the campaign is monitoring federal, state and local legislation.
“It’s challenging because many of these legislative attempts are buried in seemingly irrelevant bills,” Heppes says. “Lawmakers are attempting to circumvent current building codes and use a back-door approach that allows schools to install classroom barricade devices. We need more boots on the ground to help us find these hidden agendas, as well as monitor and track this legislation.” Heppes continues: “It’s so critical to mobilize our grassroots efforts across the United States to help us win this crucial war. At stake are the innocent lives of teachers, students and other school officials. Frankly, it’s a battle we cannot afford to lose.”
DSSF Ambassador Program
The good news is that the majority of DSSF supporters and DHI members are in a position to help. Many are equipped to serve as local experts who can educate elected officials, school administrators and related professionals about the dangers of barricade devices.
To this end, the DSSF’s Opening the Door to School Safety campaign is introducing a new effort: the DSSF Ambassadors Program. This program is a tiered effort comprised of DHI members and DSSF supporters who are conducting specific activities on behalf of the Opening the Door to School Safety campaign. These activities will be aimed at furthering the campaign’s goals and advocating against the use of barricade devices in school classrooms across North America. DSSF Ambassadors could deliver presentations to related state and local organizations, identify and monitor state and local legislation, testify before state or local regulatory bodies, conduct local outreach to national partners and collaborators, and more.
A Call to Action
Unfortunately, no school is ever fully “safe,” but if all sides of the table agree to keep safety in mind, everyone will be better off. Architects are key ambassadors in this initiative, as the design of a school can help to address issue of life safety and security. A holistic approach to school design and an understanding of what makes a classroom or building safe and secure — by including door security and safety professionals at the beginning — is a crucial step forward.
As architects, we need your voice at the table. “This issue requires all of us to take a stand,” says Jay Manzo, CPA, president, DSSF Board of Trustees, and president-CEO, H&G/Schultz Door.
If you are interested in learning more about how you can help, please contact Sharon Newport, executive director, DSSF, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was written by Sheri L. Singer, president of Singer Communications, a consultant to the Opening the Door to School Safety campaign. It was originally published in Door Security + Safety magazine and edited for this publication.