Shift to automated locks may leave classrooms at risk

Print Article
One of the first things people learn during TCU’s active shooter training is to lock the door to help protect themselves against an attacker.

But after Tuesday morning’s lockdownTCU360 surveyed classrooms across campus and found that many doors could not be manually locked from the inside.

Assistant Vice Chancellor for Facilities Chris Honkomp said that most classrooms on campus have the automatic locks that can be remotely locked. In some classrooms, there’s a hole in the door where the deadbolt used to be.

“Anything new we’ve built has got the card swipe,” Honkomp said.

Honkomp said the decision to implement more key card swipes instead of manual locks was made with safety in mind.

“What we like to about the key cards is that it gives you a record of who entered the space,” Honkomp said. “The key cards are better technology for security.”

Faculty Senate Chair Ted Legatski also sees benefits to the automatic lock system.

“While not a complete answer to every potential situation, this upgrade over the past few years represents a significant investment in improving the security of all on campus should another emergency lockdown occur,” Legatski said.

Legatski added that while he has previously heard worries from faculty, staff and students about the inability to manually lock doors, he has not heard any recently.

But TCU police said the inability to manually lock a classroom instantly is a concern.

“We want everyone to be able to take action immediately,” Assistant Chief of Police Robert Rangel said.

Rangel said the department plans to recommend that TCU buy devices that allow people to manually lock the door. These types of devices include sleeves that can go over the joint of the door to prevent it from opening and rods that brace the door shut.

Honkomp said discussions about not being able to lock the door manually in the case of an active shooter never came up in the planning process. Instead, he said, there are safety concerns with manual locks.

“If you make it so you can lock a classroom from the inside, there is ability for misbehavior from inside the classroom,” Honkomp said. “In any of these decisions, you’re making a tradeoff in safety. Especially with the active shooter, there are a lot of opinions and I don’t know that they’ve settled in on what is the best way.”

Rangel said the TCU Police have the authority and the ability to automatically lock down the classrooms across campus, an action that he said takes place within two minutes of receiving the report of an incident.

Although this automatic locking of the doors can cause problems since the police lock overrides the use of an ID to get in the building. This is something associate professor Krista Scott said she is worried about in Ed Landreth Hall.

“Let’s say there is an active shooter situation in the building, and you are trying to find a safe and secure place to hide,” Scott said. “If you don’t have ID access to a classroom or practice room, there is no secure place to go, unless someone already in a classroom or a faculty office opens their door for you. And if you and the shooter are outside and the buildings go into lockdown, where do you take shelter?”

He said the department is working on an assessment of what rooms across campus would need this kind of device.  A similar assessment of security cameras across campus took about six months Rangel said.

“In the future, the police department will be involved with architects when we’re designing buildings to incorporate some of the protocols,” Rangel said. 

Legatski said he would like to see emergency panic buttons installed in the rooms that offer direct communication to TCU police.

During Tuesday’s lockdown, there were multiple reports of problems at the University Recreation Center.

A REC employee, who asked to remain anonymous because he wasn’t authorized to comment, said none of the outer doors to the building ever locked.

“It’s pretty concerning that we have a pretty serious situation like this one, and the outer most doors don’t even lock so they can get into the building wherever they want,” the employee said. “It didn’t seem like anyone had a handle on what was going on. I didn’t really feel safe.”  

At a press conference Tuesday morning, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Public Safety Adrian Andrews said he was at the REC working out and was pleased with the response of employees.

“I am telling you when I came out of the gym it was flawless,” Andrews said. “People were away from glass windows, they were going to the basements, they were making sure they were staying safe just as they have practiced before.”

Communication Studies instructor Michael Putnam was also working out in the REC when he heard the alarms sounded.

“The building didn’t lock down the way you’d expect it to,” he said. “If they’re telling people to take cover, you gotta give them a chance to take cover. You’d think if the thing goes down at 12 you wouldn’t lock them immediately. So I don’t know if they timed out at the right time or not, but I do know the entire building didn’t go.”

Putnam added that Tuesday’s incident could help provide information on how to better the lockdown system for the future.

“I did hear a couple of the folks that work there say, ‘Well, this is a good lesson. We found out what didn’t work, because nobody got hurt,'” Putnam said. “They were well aware this wasn’t working the way it should.”

Rangel said the university is already making changes based on reports from Tuesday.

For example, he said, some of the speakers that sounded the alert couldn’t be heard in some buildings. Those speakers have been identified and the physical plant is being sent out to fix any problems in them, he said.

We were able to identify in a live situation some of the gaps that we have in the process,” Rangel said. “However, we were overly pleased not only with how the TCU police staff responded but with how well the alert responded until it was resolved.”

Legatski said he was impressed with the “extremely professional and competent” TCU police and added that the campus is very safe one by almost any measure, in part thanks to the commitment of TCU administration to make it that way.

“Nonetheless, in an open society and with an open campus, we should not be so naïve as to think we are immune from violent acts on or near campus,” Legatski said. “All of us, students, faculty, and staff, share a responsibility to each other to remain vigilant in defense of our mutual safety and security.”

 

Brandon Kitchin and Jocelyn Sitton contributed to this report.