Volume 48, Issue 5 - May 2013

End Game: Would Stringent Code Requirements Mean Safer Schools?

Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida more than 20 years ago. The storm killed 15 people and dozens more died from related aftermath injuries. Buildings, homes and schools were destroyed. Today, though, South Florida buildings are stronger and communities are better prepared for such storms. In fact, the Miami-Dade building code is currently the strongest in the nation.

Code evolution changed the way buildings in hurricane-prone regions are constructed. Now, given the increasing concern over the safety and security of schools, one matter to consider is whether such changes could impact the way schools are designed and built in the future.

Thom Zaremba, a codes consultant for the Glazing Industry Codes Committee (GICC), explains that codes typically are written to address structural safety.

“This type of issue [school attacks] is not something code groups in the past have [addressed],” says Zaremba. He adds that if such codes were to be adopted the first step would be to develop a standard that building codes could, in turn, adopt.
“A standard gives you that information you need to establish protection against this type of invasion in school systems … a standard would provide those guidelines.”

Zaremba is quick to point out, however, even with such a standard, nothing will ever be perfect.

“[Something like a school shooting is] so unpredictable,” he says. “Even if you install bullet-resistant glass, a shooter could simply get a bigger, stronger gun.”

Aside from measures that could, for example, strengthen the building envelope, another area of concern that codes address involves gaining entry into schools.

As Steve Daggers, vice president of communications for the International Code Council (ICC) explains, “Building codes are designed and written to establish minimum requirements to safeguard public health and safety to protect life and property from fire and other hazards attributed to the built environment, among other measures.” He says the family of International Codes (I-Codes) addresses all types of buildings, including educational facilities, and as a result of the Sandy Hook shootings last December the ICC has received many calls from fire officials regarding lock-down procedures in schools.

“Fire officials are being pressured by both school officials and elected officials to approve special locking arrangements. The governors of several states have created special commissions to make recommendations on security issues at schools.”
As far as specifics, Daggers says there are provisions in the 2009 and 2012 editions of the International Fire Code (IFC) that require fire officials, for example, to approve lock-down plans in facilities.

“At the local level, fire service representatives are urged, if they are not already doing so, to serve on school security commissions or committees to add their expertise to the effort,” he says.

Current code provisions regarding the issue of limiting access into a school are: Section 1008.1.9.8 (2012 IBC), which permits the entrance doors to be equipped with an approved entrance and egress access control system. The code says entrance doors shall not be secured from the egress side during periods that the building is open to the public. Likewise, section 404.3.3 (2012 IFC) addresses lock-down plans.

“The ICC code development process is open and inclusive allowing input from all individuals and groups who might submit related code change proposals,” says Daggers. “Additionally, specific code committees may receive requests to study the issue of school safety.”
—Ellen Rogers

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