It is generally understood that after the Victoria Hall disaster in Sunderland, England in 1883, wherein more than 180 children were supposed to have died because a door at the bottom of the stairwell was locked. There was a legal move by the British Government to enforce minimum standard for building safety, which eventually led to the requirement of having minimum number of outward opening emergency exits as well as locks which could be opened form the inside in the event of any emergency.
While this minimum standard was put to practice in Britain, this however had not spread to the other parts of the world for quite some time. It was after two major fires in the United States, one in 1911 where 146 factory workers died and the other where 492 people died in a fire in Boston nightclub in 1942. This led to a building safety regulation which required that exits in a large building open outward and that enough emergency exits are provided to accommodate the building’s capacity. In Moscow hospital fire, in 2006, the emergency exits were locked and windows were all barred resulting death of 45 female patients.
Similar disasters around the world also resulted in bringing about changes in emergency regulation and enforcement. In most of the countries today, it is a mandatory requirement for any high rise buildings, commercial or residential to be equipped with emergency exits as part of Building Safety and Fire Safety Regulation.
These emergency exist are required to be in a permanent location, easily accessible and be controlled from inside the building. It is usually strategically located in a stairwell, hallway or other convenient locations with an outward opening doors fitted with exit devices and exit signs leading to it.
However, while emergency exits allow unhindered escape from within a building in the event of an emergency, preventing of unwanted intrusion by un-authorized person is difficult to reconcile with. A fire in Buenos Aires nightclub killed 194 people in 2004, because the emergency exit was chained shut to prevent outsiders from sneaking into the nightclub without paying.
Given the fact that lives and property are often at risk in the event of serious crimes such as arson and theft, it is vital that a proper consideration is given to securing premises against intrusion and all potential weak spots in the building perimeter are protected to as high a standard necessary, without hindrance to life safety. Life safety interests are paramount, however the need for security against intrusion cannot be jeopardized.
A balance between Safety and Security is possible by considering the benefit of thorough risk assessments and careful planning. Customized Solutions can be devised to optimize security of emergency exit doors through the use of specialized products and good quality materials.
The guidelines as per CPFA-E No2/F: 2013 refers to Panic and Emergency Exit Devices, offers guidance on the types of security hardware suitable for use on Emergency Exit Doors and best practice security solutions to reduce inparticular, vulnerabilities commonly associated with such doors.
In the event of fire or other emergency, to achieve the right level of security while providing adequate means of escape from it, it is important to adhere to certain basic principles, namely:
• All risks should be thoroughly assessed in a structured manner.
• Emergency exit doors should be capable of being readily and easily opened from the inside the building.
• Doors intended for the purpose of emergency exit, should normally not be used for day to day purpose.
• Systems must be in place to ensure that the emergency exits are not prevented during hours of occupancy and at the same time security is not undermined by misuse, neglect or lack of maintenance.
In a building used by general public, it is important that emergency exit doors can be easily opened by people who have no training in emergency procedures or use of particular emergency exit device or no familiarity with the layout of the premises and therefore panic in the rush to escape.
Buildings normally occupied by authorized people who are familiar with the layout and have been trained specifically in the procedures of escape are less likely to panic in an emergency.
It is also important to consider that the needs of the physically challenged are met during such assessment.
Considering the above, the emergency exits should provide ease of escape and for which it should be ensured that:
• Open in the direction of travel wherever possible and lead to an open area of safety.
• Security devices fitted, can be readily and easily released without the use of key.
• If escape route is also intended for use by rescuers, a provision to open the door from outside may also need to be made.
It is important to note that provisions of suitable emergency exit doors are not a simple matter of “Fit and Forget”. Safety and Security can be ensured only if proper management systems are put in place which helps ensure that neither objective is undermined due to misuse of facility or lack of maintenance.
It is the prime responsibility of the management of premises to ensure an effective system to guarantee that the emergency exit doors are always available for emergency and at the time adequately secured against intruders.
Safety and Security considerations for a proposed emergency exit door should ensure the following:
• Suitable hardware is selected after due consultation with hardware specialist.
• Combination of frame, fittings and locking arrangements determine the overall security of the emergency exit door.
• Hardware on emergency exit doors should be maintained and in good working condition and should be regularly checked for correct action.
• Any additional locking device used to secure emergency exit door should disengage (fail safe function) when the power supply is withdrawn or fails.
• If the locking device is a Fail Secure version, there should be other provisions for the door to be manually opened during such circumstances.
• Emergency exit doors and approaches to them should never be blocked or obstructed, either internally or externally.
• Unauthorized or inappropriate use of emergency exit doors should be discouraged.
• End of the day security or locking-up procedure should include careful physical inspection of all emergency exit doors to ensure that the security hardware remains properly engaged.
The Life Safety Code (NFPA 101) and the International Building Code (IBC) both include requirements pertaining to Panic Hardware. While the codes surrounding the use of Panic Hardware can be sometimes confusing and contradictory, nonetheless, the role these products play in ensuring life safety and security makes it vital that they be specified and installed correctly. Codes and guidelines are available to assist specialists and end users in selecting suitable means to secure buildings against intrusion via emergency exit doors.
Inputs from Edelstein Bausysteme Pvt. Ltd., a Company that is fully conversant and competent in providing all support in designing, supplying and executing Emergency Exit Systems, incorporating both Safety and Security requirements