A Tale of Two Doors

 

The Uvalde, Texas mass murder is a tale of two doors: a teachers’ door and a classroom door. Both represent challenges to the best-laid plans, however earnestly advocated and lavishly funded. Any after-action review, any honest assessment leading to future recommendations to protect school children, must incorporate the human elements revealed by the teachers’ door and the classroom door.

The killer gained access through a door designated for teachers. This door was shown, on camera, being propped open by a teacher shortly before the attack began. We may surmise that propping this door open was a fairly routine occurrence. Hands up if you have an explanation for this behavior.

We were immediately treated to calls for hardening schools and strictly enforcing a single point of entry, overwatched by an armed guard. Never mind basic logistics. How do you get the school lunch supplies delivered? How do you get school supplies in and waste out of the school? How about moving between buildings or sports fields or playgrounds for recess? What about basic fire safety? And what about the teachers who need that other door?

Back to that teacher propping open the teacher’s door, do you have an idea why that is entirely normal human behavior? We have been “smoke-free” across the country in public buildings for decades. Teachers cannot go to the teachers’ lounge to take a quick drag between classes. It is perfectly normal for people to lose or forget keys to an outside door, if they get one. So, we have at least one strong motivation for breaking the security protocol of keeping all exit doors, besides the guarded entrance, closed and locked from the outside.

Insisting that this normal human response must be stomped out is not realistic, however loud and morally indignant the protestations to the contrary. The best-laid plans to secure thousands of schools across the nation every single school day must reckon with basic human nature. Does your master plan accommodate Bob the delivery guy and Ms. Smith, the smoking teacher?

The second door, the other half of our tale, is a locked classroom door. Somehow, a simple locked door, a security feature in the hardening schools scheme, confounded police from multiple departments. It took life-losing minutes, the better part of an hour, for someone to figure out that they should get the keys from the janitor.

Was the door really that hard to breach with a common battering ram used by police? Why, if the door did not immediately yield to a shoulder, were the police put into paralysis for want of a passkey?

Was the locked door, the easily overcome obstacle, facilitating the organizational paralysis and group behavior responding to poor decisions by a kindergarten cop chief? We have to dig into the group psychology around this simple locked classroom door to get real answers for future school or other public building attacks.

Any plan, prescription, or policy proposed in the wake of the Uvande school mass murder must take into account human nature. Prescriptions that propose to regiment human nature will fail. Does any current proposal account for the reality of the two doors?

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  1. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    Was the door really that hard to breach with a common battering ram used by police? Why, if the door did not immediately yield to a shoulder, were the police put into paralysis for want of a pass key?

    Classroom doors open out into the hallway, and they are one-hour fire doors by code, so opening them from the hallway is not a simple and easy task without a key. 

    • #1
  2. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    Was the door really that hard to breach with a common battering ram used by police? Why, if the door did not immediately yield to a shoulder, were the police put into paralysis for want of a pass key?

    Classroom doors open out into the hallway, and they are one-hour fire doors by code, so opening them from the hallway is not a simple and easy task without a key.

    Actually, the classroom doors where I taught high school all opened to the inside. Hardened doors were part of our recent bond issue and that will be part of our next closed session board discussion.  In addition, it turns out that the CT school shooter confronted a hardened door and shot out a plate glass window next to it to gain access.  So we need to review our new controlled access entries for potential failure points.

    • #2
  3. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    Was the door really that hard to breach with a common battering ram used by police? Why, if the door did not immediately yield to a shoulder, were the police put into paralysis for want of a pass key?

    Classroom doors open out into the hallway, and they are one-hour fire doors by code, so opening them from the hallway is not a simple and easy task without a key.

    For want of a key…that the janitor or principal would obviously have. So, did the school cops in charge not know this?

    • #3
  4. Quietpi Member
    Quietpi
    @Quietpi

    Clifford A. Brown: We may surmise that propping this door open was a fairly routine occurance. Hands up if you have an explanation for this behavior.

    Oh, I fear that’s easy: Complacency.  The working of “greater minds” than we peons (who have actually studied these things): “It will never happen here.”

    • #4
  5. Flapjack Lincoln
    Flapjack
    @Flapjack

    Quietpi (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown: We may surmise that propping this door open was a fairly routine occurance. Hands up if you have an explanation for this behavior.

    Oh, I fear that’s easy: Complacency. The working of “greater minds” than we peons (who have actually studied these things): “It will never happen here.”

    The “it will never happen here” attitude is a part of human nature.  A quick example: When I was in the military, we had a base-wide inspection, part of which was supposed to include base-wide lockdown drills with all security measures and such.  But the decision was made (supposedly by the inspectors) that we didn’t have to go to all that trouble because there was no way the base in question (due to location and purpose) would ever have to implement such measures.  No doubt, that was a considered and studied opinion.  And the people making it were not ill informed.

    And later that year, 9/11 happened and we did, indeed, implement all of those measures.  It was a mess.

    Human nature is what it is, and no amount of regulation or such will remove its characteristics.

     

    • #5
  6. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    Was the door really that hard to breach with a common battering ram used by police? Why, if the door did not immediately yield to a shoulder, were the police put into paralysis for want of a pass key?

    Classroom doors open out into the hallway, and they are one-hour fire doors by code, so opening them from the hallway is not a simple and easy task without a key.

    For want of a key…that the janitor or principal would obviously have. So, did the school cops in charge not know this?

    When I lived in Phoenix, fire and police had “bypass” keys to open gates at places such as the condos where I lived.

    • #6
  7. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    Was the door really that hard to breach with a common battering ram used by police? Why, if the door did not immediately yield to a shoulder, were the police put into paralysis for want of a pass key?

    Classroom doors open out into the hallway, and they are one-hour fire doors by code, so opening them from the hallway is not a simple and easy task without a key.

    If the door opens out, you should be able to just drive the pins out, and take the door off its hinges.  Even if they’re NRP hinges, all you need is an Allen wrench

    • #7
  8. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    Was the door really that hard to breach with a common battering ram used by police? Why, if the door did not immediately yield to a shoulder, were the police put into paralysis for want of a pass key?

    Classroom doors open out into the hallway, and they are one-hour fire doors by code, so opening them from the hallway is not a simple and easy task without a key.

    If the door opens out, you should be able to just drive the pins out, and take the door off its hinges. Even if they’re NRP hinges, all you need is an Allen wrench.

    All good information. And. Get the pass key from Jim the janitor or Pam the principal. Why would a school cop not have a pass key or know just where to get it? It seems there is a human element here, not a technical, a mechanical problem.

    • #8
  9. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    Was the door really that hard to breach with a common battering ram used by police? Why, if the door did not immediately yield to a shoulder, were the police put into paralysis for want of a pass key?

    Classroom doors open out into the hallway, and they are one-hour fire doors by code, so opening them from the hallway is not a simple and easy task without a key.

    If the door opens out, you should be able to just drive the pins out, and take the door off its hinges. Even if they’re NRP hinges, all you need is an Allen wrench.

    All good information. And. Get the pass key from Jim the janitor or Pam the principal. Why would a school cop not have a pass key or know just where to get it? It seems there is a human element here, not a technical, a mechanical problem.

    I don’t know if any of the school cops were present.  Remember, this town is where they had a total of 4 school cops, for 8 schools.  So even if the school cops have pass keys, there might be at least a 50-50 chance that any given school doesn’t have a school cop present.

    • #9
  10. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    Quietpi (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown: We may surmise that propping this door open was a fairly routine occurance. Hands up if you have an explanation for this behavior.

    Oh, I fear that’s easy: Complacency. The working of “greater minds” than we peons (who have actually studied these things): “It will never happen here.”

    Statistically, it will never happen “here.” On the other hand, I suspect it is nearly certain several staff members will go outside during the school day for a vape or smoke. Teachers and K-12 staff please chime in on the smoking/vaping assumption.

    • #10
  11. She Member
    She
    @She

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    Was the door really that hard to breach with a common battering ram used by police? Why, if the door did not immediately yield to a shoulder, were the police put into paralysis for want of a pass key?

    Classroom doors open out into the hallway, and they are one-hour fire doors by code, so opening them from the hallway is not a simple and easy task without a key.

    If the door opens out, you should be able to just drive the pins out, and take the door off its hinges. Even if they’re NRP hinges, all you need is an Allen wrench.

    All good information. And. Get the pass key from Jim the janitor or Pam the principal. Why would a school cop not have a pass key or know just where to get it? It seems there is a human element here, not a technical, a mechanical problem.

    I don’t know if any of the school cops were present. Remember, this town is where they had a total of 4 school cops, for 8 schools. So even if the school cops have pass keys, there might be at least a 50-50 chance that any given school doesn’t have a school cop present.

    The incident commander on the ground at the school, the person giving the orders, was the chief of the six-man school district police force which has responsibility for eight schools. One might think that the “school district police force” would have some internal coordination and that its “chief” would  know how to get around, and what was going on in, all the schools since as best I can make out, the sole responsibility of the “school district police force” is that of being the school district’s police force.

    EDIT: The same person – – the chief of the Uvalde school district police force – – is the person who was giving orders to the Uvalde police and is the person who was preventing the border control people from storming the door before 19 children and two teachers were dead.

    • #11
  12. Cassandro Coolidge
    Cassandro
    @Flicker

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    Was the door really that hard to breach with a common battering ram used by police? Why, if the door did not immediately yield to a shoulder, were the police put into paralysis for want of a pass key?

    Classroom doors open out into the hallway, and they are one-hour fire doors by code, so opening them from the hallway is not a simple and easy task without a key.

    If the door opens out, you should be able to just drive the pins out, and take the door off its hinges. Even if they’re NRP hinges, all you need is an Allen wrench.

    All good information. And. Get the pass key from Jim the janitor or Pam the principal. Why would a school cop not have a pass key or know just where to get it? It seems there is a human element here, not a technical, a mechanical problem.

    I don’t know if any of the school cops were present. Remember, this town is where they had a total of 4 school cops, for 8 schools. So even if the school cops have pass keys, there might be at least a 50-50 chance that any given school doesn’t have a school cop present.

    What I’ve read is that 19 policemen were in the hallway outside the classroom door, and when the initial shooting stopped they went from a shooter scenario to a barricade scenario and spent considerable time talking to the gunman, trying to talk him out.

    • #12
  13. Steve Fast Coolidge
    Steve Fast
    @SteveFast

    I used to go to Fort Davis, Tex., for the annual Texas Star Party. Both of their schools have several signs outside that say “Staff at this location have been trained to use deadly force to protect the students.” Helpfully the sign is in English and Spanish and (in case you don’t read either language) has a picture of an armed person aiming a rife. I have no idea if they actually have armed teachers inside or how many, but I imagine a potential shooter would not want to tangle with an unknown number of armed teachers inside.

    Also, the Fort Davis water department has a sign on the door, “Legal concealed carry welcomed here.” I’m guessing if a potential shooter left the school looking for an easier target, he would not go to the water department to shoot it up. In fact, I’d wager that Fort Davis will never have a mass shooting because there are a lot of concealed firearms around town.

    Schools are soft targets because firearms are banned in and near the schools. While I understand the risks of having armed teachers, the risks of not having armed teachers are obvious.

    • #13
  14. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    Was the door really that hard to breach with a common battering ram used by police? Why, if the door did not immediately yield to a shoulder, were the police put into paralysis for want of a pass key?

    Classroom doors open out into the hallway, and they are one-hour fire doors by code, so opening them from the hallway is not a simple and easy task without a key.

    If the door opens out, you should be able to just drive the pins out, and take the door off its hinges. Even if they’re NRP hinges, all you need is an Allen wrench

    Basic tools.

    • #14
  15. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    DaveSchmidt (View Comment):

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    Was the door really that hard to breach with a common battering ram used by police? Why, if the door did not immediately yield to a shoulder, were the police put into paralysis for want of a pass key?

    Classroom doors open out into the hallway, and they are one-hour fire doors by code, so opening them from the hallway is not a simple and easy task without a key.

    If the door opens out, you should be able to just drive the pins out, and take the door off its hinges. Even if they’re NRP hinges, all you need is an Allen wrench

    Basic tools.

    Anytime they send an ambulance anywhere in my city, a firetruck goes along.  Because Firetrucks carry tools for getting through doors when you don’t have a key.

    • #15
  16. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    DaveSchmidt (View Comment):

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    Was the door really that hard to breach with a common battering ram used by police? Why, if the door did not immediately yield to a shoulder, were the police put into paralysis for want of a pass key?

    Classroom doors open out into the hallway, and they are one-hour fire doors by code, so opening them from the hallway is not a simple and easy task without a key.

    If the door opens out, you should be able to just drive the pins out, and take the door off its hinges. Even if they’re NRP hinges, all you need is an Allen wrench

    Basic tools.

    Anytime they send an ambulance anywhere in my city, a firetruck goes along. Because Firetrucks carry tools for getting through doors when you don’t have a key.

    When were training with law enforcement for active shooter events for the first time, we were outside looking at a pair of big steel doors that led to a utility room of some sort.  I asked the instructor if they realized that we could get through the doors quickly with our battery powered Jaws of Life tools.  He said (very politely) that they were fully equipped to get into any door.  I hope that’s true but I remember thinking at the time I wasn’t so sure.

    BTW, the fire truck also goes along just to help move patients.  There is nothing like being in a home where you have to strap a 300+ pound person to a backboard and lift them vertically to get out of their bedroom.  It happens more often than you might think.

    Oh, and pretty much all first responders  call bolt cutters “the big red key”.

    • #16
  17. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Tex929rr (View Comment):
    When were training with law enforcement for active shooter events for the first time, we were outside looking at a pair of big steel doors that led to a utility room of some sort.  I asked the instructor if they realized that we could get through the doors quickly with our battery powered Jaws of Life tools.  He said (very politely) that they were fully equipped to get into any door.  I hope that’s true but I remember thinking at the time I wasn’t so sure.

    I’ve never been around one of these items, but doesn’t it require an edge it can grip or solid surface to push against? 

    • #17
  18. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Tex929rr (View Comment):
    When were training with law enforcement for active shooter events for the first time, we were outside looking at a pair of big steel doors that led to a utility room of some sort. I asked the instructor if they realized that we could get through the doors quickly with our battery powered Jaws of Life tools. He said (very politely) that they were fully equipped to get into any door. I hope that’s true but I remember thinking at the time I wasn’t so sure.

    I’ve never been around one of these items, but doesn’t it require an edge it can grip or solid surface to push against?

    Absolutely.  Lots of different ways to do it but if you get even maybe 1/2 inch of the end of the spreader tool in the gap it’s enough to get started.

    • #18
  19. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    Here is a video of a spreader tool in action.

     

     

     

    • #19
  20. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Tex929rr (View Comment):

    Here is a video of a spreader tool in action.

     

     

     

    I need to get one of those for times when I lose my key. 

    • #20
  21. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    Was the door really that hard to breach with a common battering ram used by police? Why, if the door did not immediately yield to a shoulder, were the police put into paralysis for want of a pass key?

    Classroom doors open out into the hallway, and they are one-hour fire doors by code, so opening them from the hallway is not a simple and easy task without a key.

    For want of a key…that the janitor or principal would obviously have. So, did the school cops in charge not know this?

    Perhaps the police should be issued keys . . .

    • #21
  22. Cassandro Coolidge
    Cassandro
    @Flicker

    Stad (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    Was the door really that hard to breach with a common battering ram used by police? Why, if the door did not immediately yield to a shoulder, were the police put into paralysis for want of a pass key?

    Classroom doors open out into the hallway, and they are one-hour fire doors by code, so opening them from the hallway is not a simple and easy task without a key.

    For want of a key…that the janitor or principal would obviously have. So, did the school cops in charge not know this?

    Perhaps the police should be issued keys . . .

    Or their own janitor.

    • #22
  23. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    It’s been a while since I fooled with NRP hinges.  Now that I think about it, the set screws are hidden when the door’s closed.  But I don’t know if schools use them.

    • #23
  24. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    As president of our township board, I have asked the chief of our FD to organize an interagency active shooter training exercise.  We had one 5 years ago. We are overdue for a refresher.  

     

     

    • #24
  25. Barfly Member
    Barfly
    @Barfly

    Why does a classroom door have a lock?

    • #25
  26. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    Barfly (View Comment):

    Why does a classroom door have a lock?

    So you can control who goes in and out and when.  At my high school the newer doors (addition) could only be locked by the key on the outside.  (You could lock the door and then close it).  Older doors had a turnable deadbolt on the inside.  Kids being kids, they would lock each other out, etc.  

    • #26
  27. cdor Member
    cdor
    @cdor

    Stad (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    Was the door really that hard to breach with a common battering ram used by police? Why, if the door did not immediately yield to a shoulder, were the police put into paralysis for want of a pass key?

    Classroom doors open out into the hallway, and they are one-hour fire doors by code, so opening them from the hallway is not a simple and easy task without a key.

    For want of a key…that the janitor or principal would obviously have. So, did the school cops in charge not know this?

    Perhaps the police should be issued keys . . .

    Isn’t it required for large residential buildings that a hardened lockbox containing entrance and master interior keys be attached to the exterior for easy access for Fire and Police Departments? We are blessed with excellent hindsight, but I still don’t quite understand why the police couldn’t break through a classroom door with a battering ram. This school appeared to have questionable hardened construction. Why would the classroom doors be impenetrable? 

    • #27
  28. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    cdor (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    Was the door really that hard to breach with a common battering ram used by police? Why, if the door did not immediately yield to a shoulder, were the police put into paralysis for want of a pass key?

    Classroom doors open out into the hallway, and they are one-hour fire doors by code, so opening them from the hallway is not a simple and easy task without a key.

    For want of a key…that the janitor or principal would obviously have. So, did the school cops in charge not know this?

    Perhaps the police should be issued keys . . .

    Isn’t it required for large residential buildings that a hardened lockbox containing entrance and master interior keys be attached to the exterior for easy access for Fire and Police Departments? We are blessed with excellent hindsight, but I still don’t quite understand why the police couldn’t break through a classroom door with a battering ram. This school appeared to have questionable hardened construction. Why would the classroom doors be impenetrable?

    Maybe by local code, but it’s not universal.

    • #28
  29. cdor Member
    cdor
    @cdor

    Tex929rr (View Comment):

    cdor (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    Was the door really that hard to breach with a common battering ram used by police? Why, if the door did not immediately yield to a shoulder, were the police put into paralysis for want of a pass key?

    Classroom doors open out into the hallway, and they are one-hour fire doors by code, so opening them from the hallway is not a simple and easy task without a key.

    For want of a key…that the janitor or principal would obviously have. So, did the school cops in charge not know this?

    Perhaps the police should be issued keys . . .

    Isn’t it required for large residential buildings that a hardened lockbox containing entrance and master interior keys be attached to the exterior for easy access for Fire and Police Departments? We are blessed with excellent hindsight, but I still don’t quite understand why the police couldn’t break through a classroom door with a battering ram. This school appeared to have questionable hardened construction. Why would the classroom doors be impenetrable?

    Maybe by local code, but it’s not universal.

    Yes, but remember, my hindsight is what we are discussing, and it is very, very good. And thanks for clearing that up for me.

    • #29
  30. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    cdor (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    Was the door really that hard to breach with a common battering ram used by police? Why, if the door did not immediately yield to a shoulder, were the police put into paralysis for want of a pass key?

    Classroom doors open out into the hallway, and they are one-hour fire doors by code, so opening them from the hallway is not a simple and easy task without a key.

    For want of a key…that the janitor or principal would obviously have. So, did the school cops in charge not know this?

    Perhaps the police should be issued keys . . .

    Isn’t it required for large residential buildings that a hardened lockbox containing entrance and master interior keys be attached to the exterior for easy access for Fire and Police Departments? We are blessed with excellent hindsight, but I still don’t quite understand why the police couldn’t break through a classroom door with a battering ram. This school appeared to have questionable hardened construction. Why would the classroom doors be impenetrable?

    Doors that open out, especially heavy-duty steel doors etc, are much harder to bash open.  Largely because you mostly can’t bash them open, you have to PULL them open.

    • #30
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