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As door barricades proliferate in schools, so do questions over their use

By Patrick Cooley • Jul 2, 2018 at 3:00 PM

COLUMBUS (TNS) — The use of barricades to seal doors in the event of an emergency such as a school shooter has increased in central Ohio schools, but some experts question their value.

Proponents say barricades offer an extra layer of protection to students and staff beyond simple locks. At least seven central Ohio school districts have spent tens of thousands of dollars on barricades, according to public records, and several more are considering them.

But school shooters have tended to go after so-called "soft targets" in hallways, and rarely, if ever, attempted to go through locked doors, say experts who have studied such shootings.

"I never recommend them," Gary Sigrist, president and CEO of the Grove City-based Safeguard Risk Solutions, said of door barricades. "I don't think they're necessary."

He also expressed concern that barricades, if not easily reversed, might slow down paramedics trying to get to wounded students or staff.

However, officials at schools who use barricades said they have keys that first responders can use to unlock them, and fire codes require the devices to be easily reversible.

Troy Lowe, CEO of the Nashport-based Silverback Safety & Training Solutions Inc., is a proponent of door barricades. Lowe said he invented his own device, which he called "an additional layer of protection that works in conjunction with existing emergency operation plans."

Some of the school districts that use barricades said police and firefighters recommended their use.

Barricades "allow a little more time, hopefully, for the police to arrive," said Larry Williams, the buildings and grounds supervisor for Newark City Schools, which spent $14,023 on barricades in 2013.

The firefighters and police who worked with the district on its emergency plan recommended barricades, district business manager Mark Shively said.

Police and firefighters in other cities, however, have recommended that school officials simply lock doors, stack desks and chairs between them and the door and get out of sight.

Marysville Fire Chief Jay Riley said he has studied mass shootings and found that strategy to be the most effective, as school shooters always seem to go after victims in plain sight.

"They're easier targets," Riley said.

Marysville's plan asks students and teachers to use what is already in place, such as the locks on the district's doors.

"They're solid doors," Riley said.

Finding barricades can be a challenge because not all of them conform to school safety and fire codes. An employee in the Mount Vernon district designed devices specifically for the Knox County district after officials were unable to find one that fit their safety standards.

Barricades vary widely in cost and sophistication. Mount Vernon's devices -- which cost the school district $14,000 this year -- are aluminum sheets that resemble "do not disturb" signs and slip into a sleeves in the door jam. Licking Heights spent $24,000 in 2017 on anchors that slide under doors. Fairbanks schools in 2015 spent $776 on door straps in 2015. Bexley spent roughly $97,000 between 2013 and 2017 on special locks that seal the doors in the event of a lockdown.

Schools that don't use them have developed alternative safety plans, and virtually all of them have bought something to boost security. London City Schools, for example, has a $36,000 camera system and walkie-talkies that give staff a direct line to the police.

Schools in the Dublin City Schools district don't use barricades, but students and staff are trained to create as much distance as possible between themselves and an attacker -- through evacuation, if possible, said Bruce McKenna, a Dublin police school resource officer. But if students and staff can't leave their rooms, they're taught to lock the doors and put obstacles such as desks and chairs in front of them.

McKenna called Dublin's plan "multi-layered."

"Barricading is one small portion," he said. "We're not relying on one simple device."

Philip Wagner, superintendent of Licking Heights Local School District, said barricades are part of that district's lockdown plan, which it developed using the recommendations of the ALICE Training Institute, which works with businesses and public agencies on active-shooter plans.

ALICE doesn't specifically recommend using door barricades, but it suggests blocking doors through any means necessary. The barricades provide a uniform way to seal every door in the event of a lockdown, Wagner said.

"Maybe you don't have a desk you can push across the room to block the door," he said.

[email protected]

@PatrickACooley

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