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Conflicts Between Security and Life Safety Codes

As building access control systems become more popular, many facility owners are unknowingly violating building and life safety codes. Many pieces of security equipment commonly used by access control systems installers do not meet applicable life safety codes. Even though the use of this equipment is in many cases illegal, many installers continue to use it on a widespread basis. In most cases, this misapplication of equipment is due to ignorance of the applicable code requirements by the person selling and installing the equipment. Another contributing factor is that many fire department and building department officials are themselves unfamiliar with many pieces of security equipment and will often overlook violations when they do not fully understand the technology being used.


Building owners who install access control systems that violate provisions of the life safety code remain liable for any injuries or deaths that might be caused because exiting from the building was delayed by the use of improper equipment.


The design of all proposed access control systems should be reviewed by an architect, fire protection engineer, or independent security consultant to assure compliance with all applicable building and life safety codes.


General Safety Guidelines For Access Control Systems

  • In general, access control systems should always allow free passage out of required exit doors without requiring any special equipment or knowledge. Systems that require the use of a card or code to exit, or systems that require that a pushbutton next to the door be pressed generally do not meet this requirement.

  • Exit should be possible with a single operation, such as by pressing a push bar on the door. Doors that require that two or more operations (such as having to slide a bolt on the door and then turn a knob) to gain passage through the door are generally not acceptable.

  • Devices at required exit doors should not be dependent on the access control system to unlock. Mechanical means should be used for exiting whenever possible. When electrical unlocking is permitted, exit devices at the door should be wired to directly unlock the door without requiring that the input be processed by the access control system field panel.

  • Electromagnetic locks ("mag locks") are the most commonly misapplied type of electric door hardware. Codes often allow a motion detector to be used to unlock the door from the inside, but an emergency release button on the inside of the door must also be provided. The use of an exit device bar that includes a switch to release the mag lock is usually also acceptable.


Common Myths

  • Myth #1: Because this is not a building used by the general public, we don't have to comply with the building codes concerning exiting. Reality: The exiting requirements for most buildings is determined by the type of occupancy, total floor space, and number of occupants. Most commercial buildings need to comply with the minimum exiting requirements specified above.


  • Myth #2: I can install any type of locking equipment I want on the exit doors just as long as I tie it to the fire alarm system to unlock upon fire alarm condition. Reality: Life safety codes are designed to permit rapid evacuation of the building in case of any emergency, not just a fire. Things like earthquakes, floods, chemical spills, etc. are events that require evacuation and may not trigger the fire alarm. As a result, connection to the fire alarm system is usually not an acceptable alternative to installing the correct hardware on the door.


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