Caution: Alarm May Sound!

Aug. 3, 2020
Traditional exit alarms, delayed-egress alarms and controlled-egress alarms bring profit opportunities.

Alarmed exits often are used for loss prevention and to control traffic or unauthorized exit in retail, restaurant and health-care applications. This remains a healthy revenue niche for locksmiths. 

Delayed-egress functions expanded the market by allowing time for security to respond. A third option, called controlled egress, was added to NFPA 101 – The Life Safety Code and International Building Code (IBC) since 2009. These options greatly expand the aftermarket available to the locksmith.

National chain stores generally have exit alarms installed during construction. Many other businesses, office buildings, warehouses, schools, colleges, health-care facilities and government agencies present retrofit and upgrade opportunities.

In a November 2017 Locksmith Ledger article, Tim O’Leary explains how he gained considerable business volume and profitable new customers by fixing new-construction “punch lists” for exit devices, particularly where delayed egress was specified. The takeaway is that, as a door and hardware professional, you understand how to make these openings work. (See  “The Basics: Exit Devices, Door Alarms & Delayed Egress.”)

Loss prevention in the retail environment depends on multiple layers of defense and detection. The alarmed or delayed-egress exit works along with CCTV, electronic article surveillance (radio-frequency ID tags), locked display cases, employee training and positioning strategies to reduce the opportunity for theft. There are three alarmed-exit categories: traditional exit alarms, delayed-egress exit alarms and controlled-egress exit alarms.

Traditional Exit Alarms

Exit alarms, such as the pioneering Alarm Lock PG-10 and LL-1, were developed about 40 years ago to inhibit retail theft and employee pilferage. The device generally is placed on back and side entrances, and an alarm sounds immediately when someone attempts to exit through those doors. The Alarm Lock Paddle Exit Model 250 added a deadbolt for enhanced external attack resistance.

Detex also introduced a number of exit-alarm innovations in recent years. The door hardware industry added alarm modules to most new exit devices as well as provided retrofit kits.

Delayed Egress

Delayed-egress options soon were written into building codes, allowing time for a security response. An alarm sounds, but the door’s opening is delayed for a specified amount of time, which gives security the chance to respond. A critical component of the delayed-egress process is that any fire alarm or loss of power must allow immediate release for occupant safety. A 15-second delay is permitted, and a 30-second delay might be approved by the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). These are defined in NFPA 101 and regulated under the IBC.

Delayed egress has become extremely popular in retail, warehouse and transportation applications. This is particularly important where exits lead to secured airline operations areas.

Controlled Egress

Controlled egress is a third (but rather limited) category for applications where free egress might present dangers to occupants or to others outside. Revisions to the NFPA 101 and IBC in recent years allow certain health-care exits to remain locked until released by staff, an automatic fire-protection system or a power failure. Two articles by Allegion code expert Lori Greene, explain delayed-egress and controlled-egress codes. These articles are recommended reading.

Psychiatric, nursing, memory-care or rehabilitation facilities where a patient requires containment are common controlled-egress applications. Controlled egress also might be desired where the safety and security of occupants is a primary concern, such as infant nurseries, pediatric or emergency departments and foster care.

It’s important to understand the codes clearly when working with a controlled-egress application. Note: Many find that the AHJ gladly will tell you in advance what will be approved, which is far better than having to tear it out later. Also, be aware that the local jurisdiction might not have adopted the latest IBC model code.

Other Alarms

Door prop and tailgating alarms are related categories where you might be asked for advice. College dorms and health and entertainment clubs are particularly vulnerable to unauthorized entry or tailgating. For example, employee smoke breaks and college-dorm beer runs are a constant source of doors propped open. At one public building, employees found it was more convenient to prop the door open for smoke breaks than to walk 25 feet to an entrance. A simple strobe-light alarm that activated when the door was held open for more than 10 seconds solved the problem. A number of inexpensive door prop alarms are available from Alarm Lock, Detex, Securitron and SDC. Anti-tailgating applications that prevent more than one person from gaining access on a single credential also are available from Detex, Securitech and SDC.  

Onboard contacts, such as the Von Duprin Remote Monitoring (RM) kit or the PHI external monitoring option, also provide a good means of detecting doors that are propped or held open. Door-position switches also are available with most commercial exit devices.

Operational designs include:

  • Stand-alone exit or door prop alarms.
  • Integrated (all in one) exit device with alarm built in.
  • Component systems using magnetic locks or electric bolts.
  • Reinforced exit alarm devices.

Added Features

In recent years, stand-alone exit alarms added features, such as exit delays, reset options, multiple time settings, alarm duration, bypass modes for electronic access control integration, relay outputs, and battery or hardwired power. 

Integrated alarmed exit devices have seen broad acceptance throughout the industry and often are specified in new construction. Von Duprin was an early adopter and provides a wide array of new-construction and retrofit options. Virtually all exit device brands now have models that have alarmed or delayed-egress versions in rim mount, mortise and vertical-rod configurations.

Exit alarm versions of integrated alarmed exit devices typically contain an onboard battery, external power or both; an alarm horn or siren; status indicators; and an arming key switch. Additional connections allow key or credential bypass, external siren or alarm relays and a rearm delay.

Delayed-egress versions include fire-alarm connections to allow immediate egress in the event of a fire alarm or loss of power. Fire-alarm events can include a heat or smoke detector alarm, sprinkler flow, fire-suppressant discharge or manual pull-station activation. It’s best to locate pull-stations away from delayed-exit doors, if possible, to prevent alarm-and-run attacks.

Additional functions include a nuisance delay time of 1 or 2 seconds, and selectable 15- or 30-second exit delay, depending on local code interpretation. A request-to-exit (REX) switch, remote alarm relay, door position switch, remote locking and other functions often are available.

Controlling the pushpad operation is a critical component of delayed- or controlled-egress functions. A light touch of the pushpad engages a microswitch or capacitance detector that initiates the nuisance alarm and then the exit-delay process. A blocking actuator or dogging device prevents depressing the pushpad further until the delay times out. The blocking actuator or dog can be motor-driven or held by a solenoid, or energized magnet.

Component systems typically use a magnetic lock or a deadbolt to secure the door. An exit device that has an REX switch or other initiating process, such as a touch sense bar (TSB), begins the system. A key-bypass switch, power transfer, door contacts, power supply, logic controller, horn and external connections typically complete the system.

Most component systems use a magnetic lock to contain the door during the delay time. In many of the magnetic-lock applications, a door-movement sensor or TSB initiates the delayed-egress operation. 

Securitron provides basic and delayed-egress magnetic locking systems in its catalog. Hager and SDC have exit devices that have basic alarm, delayed-egress and controlled-egress functionality in integrated or component configurations. A unique voice and visual display feature is available with the SDC component system. This provides an audible message for blind people or in conditions where the exit-delay sign might not be visible.

Reinforced exit alarm devices make great add-ons for tough neighborhoods. Mortise lock, vertical-rod and multipoint applications are popular with hardware specifiers in new construction. The Von Duprin XP latch on its 98 and 99 series uses a two-piece assembly that resists twice the static load when subjected to external forces. 

Alarm Lock, Detex and Von Duprin provide stand-alone deadbolt devices that have panic egress, exit alarms and delayed-egress options.

Precision’s Arm-A-Door uses a retractable horizontal barricade bar with an exit alarm built in. The pushpad retracts the barricade bars from the door frame on both sides and activates the exit alarm. This simple, inexpensive and robust product often is an attractive upgrade for small-business owners. 

Perhaps the most heavy duty of the reinforced products come from Securitech. The Trident, Auto-Bolt Max and Multi-Bolt devices provide extreme-service multipoint locking. A simple but effective pivot bolt, arming key switch and control module add alarm, delayed- or controlled-egress and door-prop functionality to any of these products.

Exit alarms, delayed egress and controlled egress are areas where the locksmith can shine. Your distributors will carry most of the brands on the accompanying list.

Cameron Sharpe, CPP-Life Certified, worked 30 years in the commercial lock and electronic access industry. He advised many institutional, military, industrial and utility organizations on key and access control processes. Contact him at [email protected]    

About the Author

Cameron Sharpe

Cameron Sharpe, CPP, worked 30 years in the commercial lock and electronic access industry. Contact him at [email protected].