First Do No Harm: Proper Security in the Facility

Avoid problems by doing your homework before altering the security design for a facility.


An essential element of a comprehensive security program is the facility security layout. The design of the layout includes many considerations. Protected areas need to be designated at the proper level. The egress from protected areas must be unobstructed, within the requirements of life-safety...


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A disgruntled employee could start a fire, and purposely leave the door ajar, using some obstruction. The interlock is then prevented from releasing the vestibule doors. Valuable seconds are spent by the guards trying to get the vestibule doors open; release the deadbolts of the exit doors; or fight the fire.

Despite the all-important safety issues, the “security” layout creates huge security problems. A “crew” (organized group of thieves) now has the advantage of predicting where and when the fortified facility will be accessible. The power could be cut at a prescribed time, forcing the employees out of the exit doors as all other vestibule doors are locked by default since they require electricity to release the locks.

Another security issue could arise if a perpetrator working from inside the area set a fire causing immediate confusion and loss of focus.

These three are glaring examples of what could occur when security upgrades create more problems than they solve. Each example creates more problems than it solves while leaving the owners in a possible state of liability. Poor planning that instigates tragedy is hard to defend.

A side note regarding the last example: I would not have anything to do with the repair of the electrified deadbolts and informed the owners of both life-safety and security concerns. I tried in vain to get them to reason but they cited that they had been doing business that way for 20 years and saw no reason to change.

A fire inspector was called out to make a determination and he concurred regarding the seriousness of the situation. The owners enlisted the opinion of a second inspector who, to my surprise, was unable to find any problems.

Fire inspectors carry a lot of weight and there really isn’t much more to do than to document the incident and move on. It is important for locksmiths to note that we must never participate in the degradation of life safety, especially in the effort of heightening security. Even when an inspector says it is okay, don’t do it. Repairing the existing locks could get the locksmith in a lot of hot water.

A question the accident investigator will have is who the last person was that worked on the locks. Any person involved with the creating or maintaining a fire trap can be legally and possibly be held criminally responsible for an accident, locksmiths included.

Expertise Required

Remember that the history of life-safety regulations is partially based on researching the cause of serious accidents relating to door and locking hardware. Sometimes the individual who designs the facility layout is less experienced regarding security hardware and more experienced regarding other types of facility systems (i.e. HVAC, lighting, plumbing, etc.). In this case, the designer is best served by consulting experts in the field. Enlist a group of security professionals to review needs of the facility layout. No one person is the ultimate expert in security design.

A veteran locksmith knows just the right type of lock to use, just as a veteran alarm technician knows best when it comes to alarm components. Before deviating from standard security hardware applications, consult with the local authority having jurisdiction (LAHJ).

Although we consider fire departments as being the authority relating to life-safety issues, the fire department in many states is also the expert on how best to secure homes and businesses.

Using consultants keeps the designer abreast of new security products and how they perform. Consultants also have means to lower the cost of a project. Sometimes they offer discounts not normally available to the designer. Sometimes they can offer alternatives that are more effective. Consultants can offer points of view not distorted by company politics or culture.

Be aware that consultants may have a strong affiliation with a specific lock manufacturer and their affiliated companies. Ask questions, sometimes the best products are not always available from only one company.

Periodic reviews of the facility by different consultants can lead to improvement or discovery of where designs can improve.

Customer Requirements

Match security to the needs of the customer. Each customer has different ideas and needs relating to security.

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