NFPA Members and AHJs can use the Technical Questions tab to post queries on NFPA 101 document information webpage.

Author(s): Kristin Bigda. Published on May 1, 2018.

In Compliance | NFPA 101

Safe door locking options aren’t just for educational occupancies


Search the Internet for the term “lockdown,” and you’ll get scores of recent news stories on the topic. While a majority of the events reported occur in K–12 schools, lockdowns happen daily in a range of occupancies: residences, colleges, businesses, hospitals. A prominent recent headline noted a lockdown at Utica College in New York that was prompted when a student threatened the campus; according to one source, students and faculty were told to shelter in place while the campus was searched. Other recent articles detailed lockdown events at a daycare center, a restaurant, and a community college.

Emergency procedures vary from building to building, but many may now involve locking doors so occupants can shelter in place if a lockdown or other type of defend-in-place order is implemented. As violent acts become more frequent, evacuation strategies will be reevaluated, and part of those strategies may involve occupants locked within areas of the building to prevent unwanted entry from active shooters or other hostile elements.

The 2018 edition of NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, includes new provisions in Chapters 14 and 15 that permit educational occupancies to safely lock classroom doors against unwanted entry. (Details on the then-proposed language were highlighted by Ron Coté in his January/February 2017 “In Compliance” article.) Following the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February, the need for security and door locking has once again focused primarily on educational occupancies, a subject that NFPA has addressed for the past three years. However, the necessity is also present in many other occupancies.

In recognition of past events, as well as to acknowledge the growing need for additional security measures in occupancies such as office buildings and college and universities, the Technical Committee on Mercantile and Business Occupancies added language to Chapters 38 and 39 of the code to permit door locking against unwanted entry in business occupancies. This permission can be applied to classroom and office buildings at colleges and universities as well as other business occupancies that have been the scenes of violent acts in the past. The intent of the new section is to apply only where specialized security measures are needed to prevent unwanted entry. Examples of doors that might make use of this new permission include college and university classroom doors, areas within office spaces, laboratories, and instructional rooms or spaces.

Based on the provisions for classroom door locking in Chapters 14 and 15, the new provisions for business occupancies permit door locking where approved by the AHJ and if doors can comply with a list of criteria. For example, the locking means provided on the door must be capable of being engaged without opening the door, ensuring that occupants trying to lock the door do not have to open the door, potentially compromising safety, in order to lock it. The unlocking and unlatching operation from the egress side cannot require the use of a key, tool, or special knowledge or effort, and the releasing mechanism cannot require more than one releasing operation to open the door. From outside the room, the door must be capable of being opened with a necessary key or other credential. Also included in the list of criteria are requirements for mounting height of the releasing device, provisions for releasing the locks if they are remotely engaged, and requirements to follow the correct procedures if modifying the door assembly.

The time is now to address how we safely secure buildings and their occupants. We cannot avoid the obvious need to lock doors and address security needs in all manner of buildings, which is what the 2018 edition of the code does for office buildings and colleges and universities. The new requirements in Chapters 38 and 39 are a step toward achieving that balance of life safety and security in the code. The discussions about security and safety for both fire and other emergencies will surely continue as we enter the next revision cycle for the development of the 2021 edition of NFPA 101, and I look forward to being a part of them.

KRISTIN BIGDA, P.E., is principal fire protection engineer at NFPA.