Would More Secure Doors Have Slowed Newtown Shooter? | Connecticut Public Radio

Would More Secure Doors Have Slowed Newtown Shooter?

Feb 15, 2013
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The security of school buildings themselves is a hot topic around the country since the attack at an elementary school in Connecticut. The market is full of expensive options, everything from bullet resistant doors to electronic classroom locks. But according to one door and lock manufacturer, the best first step is for schools to make sure that what they already have works. Here's Jeff Cohen at member station WNPR.

JEFF COHEN, BYLINE: Adam Lanza shot his way into the Sandy Hook Elementary School on the morning of December 14th. As he did, Mary Ann Jacob was working in the library with 18 4th graders. When she realized what was going on, she locked all five of the library's doors, or so she thought.

MARY ANN JACOB: Then one of the doors of the library opened and we saw the butt of a rifle come around the corner.

COHEN: It was held by a police officer.

JACOB: He yelled to us to lock the door. We crawled back over there and realized the door wouldn't lock.

COHEN: So Jacob, three other adults and 18 children crawled across the floor to a closet, barricaded themselves in and waited until it was safe to leave. It was a gruesome day that nevertheless poses security questions. Can a school's main doors somehow be made more secure? And what about the doors on the inside of the building?

Those are things that Leslie Saunders thinks about a lot. She's a vice president for Assa Abloy, which makes school locks and doors. We're at their facility in New Haven, about 30 miles from Newtown. She says her colleagues have all been touched by the school shooting just a few towns over. This is where the company makes locks. It's also where they try to abuse them until they fail.

LESLIE SAUNDERS: This is an abusive lock cycling machine.

COHEN: It's pretty much what it sounds like. There's a door handle next to a rotating paddle that over and over again pushes the handle down. So this will be in motion...

SAUNDERS: ...24 hours a day, 7 days a week for months on end, until the device fails.

COHEN: We then went into what's called the life safety area, where the company showcases tornado doors, doors filled with fire retardants and doors fill with bullet-resistant Kevlar. There's another room that demonstrates all kinds of electronic classroom locks, some with centralized controls. The point is clear. Almost anything is possible and expensive. Let's say you wanted to replace your front door. A single bullet-resistant exterior door could cost between $3,000 and $7,000, depending on how resistant it is.

If your school has a lot of outside doors, that means a lot of money. Saunders says there are cheaper, easier steps to take like making sure your current doors are working.

SAUNDERS: Do they swing freely? Do they close? And when they close, does the latch bolt throw? Because if that doesn't take place, you know, it's all for not, right. You can have a bullet resistant door that doesn't latch and it doesn't matter.

COHEN: As for locks, Saunders says it's important to know where all of the keys to your building are and who has them. It's worth getting classroom door locks that can lock from both sides. And it also means telling students and teachers not to prop open doors that should be kept closed.

SAUNDERS: You know, we get very excited about bullet resistance and we get very excited about all these cool technologies that we can employ. I think we need to take a step back, kind of take a deep breath and say, what's my current situation? And what can I do right now to make it better?

COHEN: All of this gets to the obvious question. If a person comes to your school armed with high-powered guns and a lot of ammunition, what good is a locked or closed classroom door? A lot of good, if you ask Moe Kennedy. He's the executive director for the National Association of School Resource Officers. For him, locked doors make a big difference.

MOE KENNEDY: Typically, in the traditional active shooter scenario or situations that have occurred over the years, shooters have had a tendency to pass locked doors, to not go through a locked door. They're looking for easy, quick targets.

COHEN: And Leslie Saunders says doors that close and locks that work may not stop a shooter but they may slow a shooter down. And when you're waiting for police officers to arrive, time is everything. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Cohen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.