Introduction To Special Egress Locks

The 2012 edition of the International Building Code permits this new category of locking device for I-2 occupancy facilities, which are health care facilities with 24-hour medical supervision for patients, and occupants are incapable of self-preservation...


In my opinion, either fail-safe electromechanical locks or electromagnetic locks would meet the intent of this section of the IBC, as long as all of the stated criteria are met and the clinical needs of the patients require such measures. Because the IBC does not specifically state which types of patient areas this applies to, that would need to be determined by the AHJ. If the door is fire-rated, it must have an active latch bolt to provide positive latching. For egress, it should take only one operation to unlatch the door after the lock has been released electronically.

Free egress is required by the IBC for these locations upon actuation of the fire alarm/sprinkler system, power failure, and remote release. The staff must be trained and ready to unlock the doors as needed; the building must be protected throughout with a sprinkler system / fire detection system; a building occupant must not pass through more than one door with a special egress lock before entering an exit, and emergency lighting must be provided at the door. Where patients require restraint or containment as part of the function of a psychiatric treatment area, some of the requirements for automated release of the doors do not apply. Refer to the code excerpt below for detailed information.

From the 2012 edition of the International Building Code (IBC):

1008.1.9.6 Special locking arrangements in Group I-2. Approved special egress locks shall be permitted in a Group I-2 occupancy where the clinical needs of persons receiving care require such locking. Special egress locks shall be permitted in such occupancies where the building is equipped throughout with an automatic sprinkler system in accordance with Section 903.3.1.1 or an approved automatic smoke or heat detection system installed in accordance with Section 907, provided that the doors are installed and operate in accordance with Items 1 through 7.

1. The doors unlock upon actuation of the automatic sprinkler system or automatic fire detection system.

2. The doors unlock upon loss of power controlling the lock or lock mechanism.

3. The door locks shall have the capability of being unlocked by a signal from the fire command center, a nursing station or other approved location.

4. A building occupant shall not be required to pass through more than one door equipped with a special egress lock before entering an exit.

5. The procedures for the operation(s) of the unlocking system shall be described and approved as part of the emergency planning and preparedness required by Chapter 4 of the International Fire Code.

6. All clinical staff shall have the keys, codes or other means necessary to operate the locking devices.

7. Emergency lighting shall be provided at the door.

Exception: Items 1 through 4 shall not apply to doors to areas where persons, which because of clinical needs, require restraint or containment as part of the function of a psychiatric treatment area.

The 2009 and 2012 editions of NPFA 101 – The Life Safety Code also contain language pertaining to locked doors in Health Care occupancies, although the requirements vary slightly from the IBC. Psychiatric units, Alzheimer units, and dementia units are referenced in Annex A as areas that may have locked doors which can be readily unlocked by staff. This applies to locations where the clinical needs of patients require specialized security measures or where patients pose a security threat. NFPA 101 requires these doors to be able to be unlocked by remote control of locks, or keys carried by staff at all times, or other reliable means available to staff. Only one lock is allowed per door.

Pediatric units, maternity units, and emergency departments are listed in Annex A as examples of areas where patient special needs require specialized protective measures for their safety. The building must be protected throughout by an approved, supervised automatic sprinkler system. Locked doors in these areas must be able to be readily unlocked by staff, have the capability of remote unlocking, and be automatically unlocked upon loss of power or actuation of the fire detection / sprinkler system. The locked space must be protected by a smoke detection system, or an approved constantly attended location within the locked space must be able to remotely unlock the doors. Complete requirements can be found in the NFPA 101 excerpt below:

From the 2012 edition of NFPA 101 – The Life Safety Code:

18.2.2.2.5.1* Door-locking arrangements shall be permitted where the clinical needs of patients require specialized security measures or where patients pose a security threat, provided that staff can readily unlock doors at all times in accordance with 18.2.2.2.6.

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