After violent episodes too numerous to list and too terrible to forget, schools and universities have been focused for several years on enhancing security in their facilities.

Doors are among the most critical points of concern for school personnel responsible for keeping buildings safe. Education institutions want doors that let the right people in and keep the wrong people out. Well-designed, properly secured doors supplemented by equipment that wards off intruders, controls access and prevents damage can help educators provide a safe environment that is conducive to learning.

Ins and outs

The paradox of door safety for schools and universities is that the doors should be designed and built so that it's hard for people to get in, yet easy for them to get out.

In a publication released earlier this year, “Door Locking Options in Schools,” the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities spells out the characteristics that ensure a door will control who and what gets into a school building. Administrators should consider “the strength, durability and composition of a door, its hinges and frames, and the effectiveness of its latching and locking hardware.”

From a fire-safety perspective, doors are for getting out. “In occupied buildings, egress doors can prevent entry, but they can never prevent exit,” the NCEF says. “This iron-clad rule is the product of over a century of fire-safety regulation, molded by numerous tragic and sometimes horrendous building fires, and refined by decades of research and experience.”

That means, according to the International Building Code, that “egress doors shall be readily openable from the egress side without the use of a key or special knowledge or effort.”

Having doors that are easy to open from the inside of a school makes it simple for students to defeat carefully designed exterior door security — on a whim or in a moment of inattention they may let in someone who doesn't belong.

To help prevent such security breaches, many schools and universities choose to enhance the security features of their exterior doors by installing the latest technology and equipment, and incorporating crime-prevention strategies.