State Fire Marshal issues guidelines for locks on classroom doors

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

BATON ROUGE – The Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s Office has issued guidelines for installing locks on the inside of classroom doors to help secure campuses during an active shooter situation.

Chief H. “Butch” Browning outlined the new guidelines in a pair of memos issued this month to all schools and daycare facilities in Louisiana.

The first memo, issued on March 1, is intended to address “the current unprecedented security needs of our educational systems” while paying close attention to the costs associated with retrofitting classroom doors in a way that will not “adversely affect means of egress and life safety.”

The proposed door locks will serve as a secondary line of defense after security measures like fences, metal detectors, and security guards, which are meant to control access to the campus.

Schools will be allowed to install one single cylinder deadbolt lock with a thumb turn on the classroom side of each classroom door between 34 inches and 48 inches above the floor, according to the memo.

A sign reading “Lock is for teacher’s use only” will be installed next to each door, and all door locks on campus will be opened with the same key, which “responsible school staff shall have available at all times.”

A reliable two-way communication system between the locked classrooms and the front office is recommended, and procedures will be instituted that clearly distinguish between a signal for an evacuation for a fire or other emergency and a signal for a shelter-in-place emergency, according to the memo.

The guidelines do not apply to large rooms with an occupancy of 50 people or more.

In a separate memo also sent to schools on March 1, the Fire Marshal’s Office lays out recommendations for what to do in case a fire alarm is pulled with malicious intent.

“To diminish fire safety protection in the spirit of addressing an active shooter threat is an ill-advised policy,” Browning writes in the memo.

The new guidelines are intended to “provide clarification and direction as to State fire code requirements relating to the operation of fire alarm systems” in all Louisiana schools, Browning wrote.

Schools are not allowed to tamper with or modify fire alarm systems in any way.

One fire drill must be conducted each month, with accomodations allowed “where concerns exist for malicious activation of fire alarms,” according to the memo.

Enhancements to fire alarm systems that allow for the use of delayed alarms including a positive alarm system, or the installation of active fire suppression systems that allow for fewer fire pull stations are allowed.

“We have been working hard to ensure that our state’s fire safety programs in schools are properly executed,” Browning said.