Do we, as specifiers and architects, have an obligation to ensure public safety? I think we do.
The following is an edited version of a letter I wrote to a building owner. The building owner acknowledged receiving the letter, so I am protecting their identity while they address the issue.
When trying to leave one of your buildings, I found a locked exit door that is in violation of the building code and a hazard to the building occupants. Being an architect myself, I could not let this issue go without notifying someone at a significant level of authority. So I am writing to you in hopes that you will deliver this message to someone responsible for your facilities to make the necessary corrections for the building to be code compliant and safe for your students, faculty, and visitors.
Click photos for larger image so the signs are legible.
The door is marked as an emergency exit by the lighted EXIT sign above the door. Both door leaves are fitted with panic devices, indicating the doors are intended for emergency exiting. However the doors are locked by magnetic locks at the top of each door leaf at the center of the opening. All these conditions can be seen in Photo #1.
The magnetic locks are released by swiping a photo ID in the keypad next to the door, shown in Photo #2. I imagine the locks are also released when the fire alarm or the sprinkler system is activated as required by code, but there was no visible way to tell.
Photo #3 shows a sign that one leaf of the emergency exit door is an entry door only, although it is clearly marked as an exit door.
Because of the ID Card/Keypad and magnetic locks, the door is considered an access-controlled egress door. Therefore, the door must comply with Section 1008.1.3.4 of the ICC Building Code. The code requires a sensor on the egress side to detect an occupant approaching the door and to unlock as a result. The allowable sensors include a motion detector or presence detector. The code also requires a clearly identified emergency PUSH TO EXIT switch within five feet of the door to manually release the magnetic locks in case the sensor fails. Neither a sensor nor an emergency switch exists to release the magnetic locks. In an emergency, a visitor without a photo ID and any panicked student or faculty unable to find and swipe an ID will not be able to exit the building.
This same condition may be repeated for other access-controlled emergency egress doors on campus. I did not attempt to find other code violations. I do suggest that whomever addresses this particular door should survey the other access-controlled doors on campus to determine what other corrective actions are required, if any.
Because the current condition of this door is a significant safety hazard, I expect you to acknowledge receiving this message. I also expect you to tell me what steps will be taken to correct the condition to make the building safe to occupy and when the corrections will be completed.
Thank you for your help to make your buildings safe for students, faculty, and the public. I await your response.