Controlling the Ins and Outs of Campus Buildings

Keeping campus visitors out of certain areas is not something that we typically think about day-to-day. Most campuses are open campuses; we invite the public to come view and experience the many cultural resources our campuses have to share with the local community. At the same time we need to take steps to ensure that the books, artifacts, and other sensitive or high-value items that we have for the public to see and learn from stay in our facilities. To accomplish these often-competing priorities, egress doors may warrant some level of security. Animal research facilities, library special collections, museums, and high-profile or sensitive research areas are just a few of the locations on a campus to be considered for access-controlled egress doors.

Campus fire safety professionals, facilities staff, and campus police often have different views regarding the best way to lock up or secure some of these sensitive campus facilities. The 2003 International Building Code provides a means to secure egress doors in buildings. There are six specific criteria that need to be included in order to meet the provisions of the code.

1. A sensor shall be provided on the egress side arranged to detect an occupant approaching the doors. The doors shall be arranged to unlock by a signal from or loss of power to the sensor.

2. Loss of power to that part of the access control system, which locks the doors, shall automatically unlock the doors.

3. The doors shall be arranged to unlock from a manual-unlocking device located 40 to 48 in. (1016 to1219 mm) vertically above the floor and within 5 ft. (1524 mm) of the secured doors. Ready access shall be provided to the manual unlocking device and the device shall be clearly identified by a sign that reads“PUSH TO EXIT.” When operated, the manual unlocking device shall result in direct interruption of power to the lock — independent of the access control system electronics — and the doors shall remain unlocked for a minimum of 30 seconds.

4. Activation of the building fire alarm system, if provided, shall automatically unlock the doors, and the doors shall remain unlocked until the fire alarm system has been reset.

5. Activation of the building automatic sprinkler or fire detection system, if provided, shall automatically unlock the doors. The doors shall remain unlocked until the fire alarm system has been reset.

6. Entrance doors in buildings with an occupancy in Group A, B, E, or M shall not be secured from the egress side during periods that the building is open to the general public.

In addition to these six items, campus staff need to be aware that there can only be one access-controlled egress in the path of travel. In other words, you may only invoke this provision in the code once as you pass through the exit system of a building. For this reason, it makes sense to use this option on interior tenant spaces of the building and not the main exterior doors. This would allow many different portions to use access control devices prior to entering the common egress system. Of course if the building is not open to the public it is possible to provide this locking system on the perimeter doors.

This provision in the code is most helpful in facilities that are partially occupied by staff after hours and on weekends but by the public during normal business hours. It allows for the public to visit our collections without burdensome check-in procedures, but then allows for a higher level of security and an acceptable level of life safety for after-hours staff.

Mike Halligan is the associate director of Environmental Health and Safety at the University of Utah and is responsible for Fire Prevention and Special Events Life safety. He frequently speaks about performance-based code solutions for campus building projects and is recognized as an expert on residence hall fire safety programs. He can be reached at 801/585-9327 or at

About the Author

Mike Halligan is the President of Higher Education Safety, a consulting group specializing in fire prevention program audits, strategic planning, training and education programs and third party plan review and occupancy inspections. He retired after twenty six years as the Associate Director of Environmental Health and Safety and Emergency Management at the University of Utah. He frequently speaks and is a recognized expert on residence hall/student housing fire safety and large scale special event planning. He also works with corporate clients to integrate products into the campus environment that promote safety and security.

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