School safety took on a new meaning this year. Before, safety was often associated with protecting students and faculty from physical danger. This fall, there was an invisible threat for K-12 schools. Back-to-school required many school districts to redefine procedures and implement new routines so that students could come back to school in a healthy manner.
When considering ways to create healthier K-12 buildings, it’s important to address high-touch surfaces like door hardware. Surface transmission is a risk, especially at high-traffic doors like main entrances and restrooms. Therefore, when we think about school security and safety — in 2020 and beyond, because the need for healthier schools will likely extend for years to come — we need to balance code-compliant security measures with disease-prevention protocols to provide safe learning environments.
How will your school meet the need for safe learning environments while districts are already being asked to do more with less money? There are options for more hygienic door operation to fit a wide range of budgets.
Cleaning and disinfecting
It’s crucial to keep surfaces clean and disinfected to help prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria. When it comes to door hardware, follow the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has easy-to-prepare solutions and instructions for disinfecting surfaces. It’s important not to use abrasive cleaners and always check labels first.
Before, cleaning might have only occurred after school hours when students were away. Your school will need to determine the right cadence for today’s environment. While necessary, more cleaning requires more budget for cleaning resources.
Hands-free mechanical products
Hands-free door pulls are an inexpensive retrofit solution for mechanically-operated doors, and they are easy to install. These are a great way to upgrade a bathroom door, for example. There are options for arm and foot operation.
Hands-free door pulls will require more investment upfront, but it reduces the surfaces being touched by hands throughout the day, which might help reduce the cleaning frequency needed.
Automatic touchless openings
Touchless openings are the best option because they require no contact for operation, but they come at a higher price.
Perimeter doors, especially main entrances, with automatic door operators can easily be converted to touchless by simply swapping out the actuator with a touchless actuator. In the morning and after school, guests just wave their hand and the door opens automatically. During the school day when these doors are locked, faculty just need to present their credential — ideally to a contactless reader — then wave their hand.
Interior doors can benefit from automatic door operation too. Think about the bathrooms that serve hundreds of students a day. Has the school already invested in touchless soap dispensers, faucets and towel dispensers or hand dryers? Do the toilets have contactless sensors? The logical next step is to create a completely touchless bathroom experience by installing an automatic door operator and touchless actuator.
Antimicrobial surface technologies
Antimicrobial coatings can help mitigate surface transmission of germs. Silver-ion based coatings, which prevent growth of bacteria, are widely available. However, these are not proven to kill bacteria. Copper alloy surface technologies are generally more effective against bacteria than silver. That said, it’s important to confirm the specific types of microbes the solution was tested against.
Surface coatings are an option for high-touch surfaces that cannot be converted to hands-free or touchless. You might also consider it for future replacement needs.
To keep students safe against all threats — from violence to invisible viruses — find the right options for your school. It’s not a copy-and-paste solution. As I’ve outlined here, door hardware comes in many forms to fit your application and budgetary needs. I recommend working with a reputable hardware consultant. They will help you find the best fit and ensure building codes are being followed.
Brad Sweet has served in the building products industry for 19 years and held leadership roles in marketing, product and business development, operations and sales. He’s currently the Commercial Marketing Leader with Allegion, where he has worked for more than seven years. Brad has an engineering degree from Purdue University and an MBA from Indiana University.