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Author(s): Kristin Bigda. Published on May 1, 2019.

In Compliance | NFPA 101

Considering targeted violence events when conducting emergency egress drills in schools


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Balancing the long-standing focus of occupant life safety from fire events with the growing need for security from non-fire-related events continues to be one of the most common themes running through the proposed changes and technical committee discussions during the first stages of developing the 2021 edition of NFPA 101, Life Safety Code.

Providing guidelines for how to safely lock classroom doors in schools, daycare facilities, and office buildings is a recent example of how the code has addressed a specific need to balance life safety alongside fire and occupant security. However, as these occupancies are faced with a growing pressure to implement additional security measures and policies to increase the safety of their students and staff, the needs go beyond just that of locked doors and/or responding to fire.

One of these needs is drilling and training students and staff in schools to be prepared for not only fire events, but non-fire events such as active shooters. Currently, emergency egress (fire) drills are required every month the facility is in session. If the facility is located in a climate where the weather is severe—snow or extreme temperatures, for example—the monthly drill can be deferred as long as at least four drills have been conducted. One additional drill, other than for those educational occupancies that are open on a year-round basis, is required within the first 30 days of operation. When drills are conducted, all occupants of the building including staff and students must participate. These are standard practices that have been in the code for years.

Today, however, preparing for non-fire events is more important than ever before. That need, balanced with the minimum required fire drills—and, in some locations, drills for other emergencies such as weather or hazmat-related events—can overload staff and occupants with an unreasonable number of requirements and strains on resources, planning, and preparation.

One Maryland school system, for example, is required by the state to hold six additional non-fire related drills—beyond the required fire drills—representing different occupant responses. To meet these requirements, the school system develops scenarios simulating events with varied evacuation strategies depending on the emergency. These additional drills train occupants on scenarios such as an earthquake (“Drop, Cover, and Hold On” response, followed by a building evacuation), active shooter (lock-down response and possible evacuation), hazmat situation in the building (full-building evacuation), and nearby police activity (shelter-in-place, lockout, no evacuation). On top of this, students take part in three full-scale bus evacuations throughout the school year.

Are we at a point where drills have become excessive? Do we risk discouraging the appropriate occupant response, diminishing the value of all those drills?

A code change has been proposed that would improve this situation and help school systems. The Technical Committee on Educational and Daycare Occupancies has proposed a change to permit, with approval from the authority having jurisdiction, up to two of the required emergency egress drills to consist of alternative emergency drills for either targeted violence events, natural-hazard events, or both. This will offer flexibility to schools trying to address the dilemma of balancing the number of drills to determine if some of the historically required emergency egress (fire) drills can be set aside in order to prepare and practice for other types of non-fire emergencies.

The proposed change was developed as a committee input that, in the NFPA standards development process, is a proposed technical-committee-generated revision that is not officially part of the First Draft but is published for public review in the First Draft Report. Currently, the proposed Committee Input can be viewed in the newly published First Draft Report available at and is open for public comment.

Public participation in the form of public comment will help further refine the proposed concept of balancing drills in schools to accommodate the growing need for training and response to both fire and non-fire related emergencies. A similar change has also been proposed for NFPA 1, Fire Code, and is available for public comment in the First Draft Report. Comments can be submitted until June 27 at

KRISTIN BIGDA is a principal fire protection engineer at NFPA.