Quick Code Q&A

Quick Code Q&A: Controlled Egress

My last two posts detailed the requirements and differences between electromagnetic locks released by a sensor and those with a door hardware release. I want to turn to another special locking arrangement for this month’s post: controlled egress locks.

These locks are allowed by the model codes in healthcare facilities where patients require containment for their safety or security. During regular operation, the doors do not allow free egress. If evacuation is needed, the doors will be unlocked by one of the required emergency overrides or facility staff.

Controlled egress locks are intended to prevent elopement and are not allowed in all healthcare units. The typical locations for these locking systems are memory care units, behavioral health treatment areas, maternity wards and newborn nurseries. However, depending on the Authority Having Jurisdiction’s (AHJ) interpretation, they may also be used in emergency departments, pediatric units, or other areas.

Controlled egress locks are intended to prevent elopement and are not allowed in all healthcare units. The typical locations for these locking systems are memory care units, behavioral health treatment areas, maternity wards and newborn nurseries.

Question: How must controlled egress locks be released?

The model codes published by the International Code Council (ICC) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) require staff to carry the keys, codes or other credentials to unlock the doors for egress and for these procedures to be documented in the facility’s emergency plan. In addition, the doors must be released automatically under certain conditions, except for psychiatric and cognitive treatment areas, locations with listed child abduction systems, and units where patients pose a security risk.

For healthcare units that are not exempt from the additional release requirements, controlled egress locks must be able to be unlocked by a remote switch. The International Building Code states that this switch must be located at the fire command center, nursing station, or other approved location. For new occupancies, the NFPA codes require the switch to be within the area that is locked by the controlled egress locks.

With some exceptions, both sets of model codes require controlled access locks to be released immediately upon activating the smoke detection system, fire alarm or automatic sprinkler system. That said, the codes differ in what fire protection systems are required. The I-Codes require the building to be equipped throughout with an automated sprinkler system or approved automatic smoke or heat detection system. The NFPA codes require a supervised automatic sprinkler system and either a complete smoke detection system throughout the locked space or the ability to remotely unlock doors from an approved, constantly attended location within the locked space. When power fails, both sets of model codes also require controlled egress locks to unlock immediately in the direction of egress—except for the units listed above. The codes are not specific about backup power for this application.

These are just a few requirements for controlled egress locks listed in the model codes. If a project calls for this special locking arrangement, it is recommended that specifiers consult with a location’s adopted codes for a complete list of requirements.

If you have a code-related question you would like answered, please send it to jhuff@glass.com.