Volume 40,   Issue 9                    September  2005

Safe and Sound

What is New in Hardware for Life Safety and Security

by Ralph Vasami

The field of life safety and security is always evolving, whether in response to new threats or improved technology. It is the glass industry’s responsibility to address threats and make the most of technology in an effort to make buildings safer and more secure. This ongoing effort toward safety and security leads to the constant generation of new standards, the development of new products and the formation of groups that address issues important to the industry.

Windstorm Safety
Severe windstorms and hurricanes are a seasonal threat to U.S. coastal states. As Hurricane Katrina recently showed, hurricanes are of particular concern in the five states most prone to experience their effects: Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Louisiana and South Carolina. The property damage they cause can be catastrophic; Hurricane Andrew caused $26.5 billion in damage when it hit Florida and Louisiana in 1992. Some damage estimates from Katrina are estimated at $36 billion.

Architects, code officials, specifiers and manufacturers are still learning lessons from hurricanes. As a result of such events, guidelines and codes are constantly being developed and refined.

No matter how solidly a building is constructed, a breach of its outer envelope, caused by being struck with a projectile or hurricane force wind, can compromise it and cause structural damage—or failure—leading to property damage, and even loss of life. Door entry systems are a first line of defense for maintaining structural integrity in a severe windstorm.

Many local codes specify the testing of complete door assemblies, limiting the choices available to builders and consumers. The Steel Door Institute (SDI) and the Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA) have developed a national standard for a component-based approach to testing and certification for windstorm resistance of exterior swinging door assemblies. ANSI/SDI/BHMA A250.13 Windstorm Standard provides a rating system that relates directly to the component’s ability to withstand the conditions that are present in a full assembly test. The evaluations required by this standard are based on the structural performance tests specified in ASTM E 1886, ASTM E 1996 and ASTM E 330.

The procedures outlined by the standard determine the ability of exterior doors to remain closed under severe windstorm conditions. The rating procedure covers all components normally assembled to form an exterior swinging door system: frames, hardware mullions, thresholds, frame anchorages, hinges, locksets, latches and bolts, doors, glazing systems, sidelites and transoms. Components are classified into various strength categories that can be used to determine assembly ratings. A single component may have multiple ratings depending on factors such as size, number and location of anchors or fasteners, and type of surrounding construction. 

Manufacturers can submit components covered by A250.13 to an approved independent laboratory to carry out the prescribed tests. Only those products that pass testing can claim BHMA certification. Upon approval, manufacturers can label products with the BHMA Certified logo and list the product in the Certified Products Directory.

Architectural openings, such as doors and windows, need to be secured against forced or surreptitious entry. As noted in the new National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 730 Guide for Premises Security, it is recommended to use builders hardware that meets BHMA standards for reliable security protection. For maximum safety, door design, strength, reinforcement, casing and locking devices need to be compatible. Locks are, of course, an important element for security purposes, one of their main functions is to limit or control access, but they are also crucial to safe egress in emergency situations. Products should be designed to allow free egress while maintaining security from the outside. 

The purpose of ANSI/BHMA standards is to guide users by defining various functions and performance levels of builders hardware. NFPA 730 recommends, for example, that mortise locks meet the ANSI/BHMA and UL 437 standards. The recently published ANSI/BHMA A156.13-2005 Mortise Locks and Latches contains rigorous security requirements as well as elements to ensure safe egress. All 31 BHMA standards, covering the full range of builders hardware, are reviewed and updated regularly, taking into account the evolution of technology and new performance requirements as they arise.

Fire Exit Safety
Fire safety is another area of constant concern for the building industry. Unlike hurricanes, fires can strike at any time, anywhere, with little or no warning. As a result, fire safety requires constant vigilance. Builders hardware functions in two ways: stopping the spread of fire and facilitating emergency egress.

Fire doors that are bolted, chained, locked or otherwise compromised can lead to the loss of life in the event of fire or other emergency. The dangers of compromised, blocked or poorly lit fire exits have been demonstrated repeatedly: the Station nightclub in Rhode Island in 2003 (100 dead); the Loop high rise in Chicago in 2003 (six dead); the Imperial chicken plant in North Carolina in 1991 (25 dead); and the Happy Land Social Club in 1990 in the Bronx (87 dead). Perhaps the most infamous fire that illustrated the need for safe fire exits was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 in which 146 people were killed, and which led to the development of building safety laws in New York State and eventually throughout the country.

Although existing code mandates require inspection of fire doors in the means of egress at the time of installation and occupancy, there is limited inspection to ensure that exits have not been modified or blocked after installation. Post-installation inspections performed on an ad-hoc basis often reveal exits that have been blocked or otherwise tampered with, emphasizing the importance of regular inspections that can ensure continuance of the original code compliance. 

The Door Safety Council (DSC) is an alliance of associations and independent laboratories whose mission is to save lives and protect property. To do this, they are encouraging an industry-wide effort to implement an inspection process of side-hinged exits and fire-rated door assemblies. 

The goal of the DSC is to develop mandatory requirements, through existing code bodies, for regular inspection of fire-rated doors and doors in the path of egress. These inspections will ensure that fire doors and their components are not modified, blocked or made to impede egress, and that they continue to provide the intended fire protection. The NFPA is considering adding door inspections to the new edition of NFPA 80 Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives.

The DSC is also developing inspection procedures that will be submitted to the International Code Council (ICC) and the NFPA once the local codes are modified to include post-installation inspection.

The Author:
Ralph Vasami serves as the codes director for the Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association.

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