ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Fire codes, which include a required amount of exit doors, are enforced in school buildings to protect students from fires, but these codes could conflict with protecting students from another threat which has become more common than school fires in recent years – active shooters.
When you go into a school building during school hours, you will have to walk through the main entrance, speak to the front desk, and possibly even go through metal detectors, but it has not always been this way.
You can tell by looking at the old Taylor Elementary School building, which is no longer owned by Abilene ISD, that there are doors to the classrooms and windows that are not made of bulletproof glass.
“That’s just the way they did things,” says Steve Ellinger, a local architect who has built many schools in Abilene and across Texas. Even though this building appears unsafe for elementary students now, Ellinger says the possibility of a school shooter was not on anyone’s minds when this was built.
“Now we’re thinking about arming teachers and all this sort of thing, and so we just have to look at it from a different environment,” Ellinger says.
He explains that a shift in school building design has been noticeable in recent years, as seen with the new Taylor Elementary building. There is only one entrance in this building, but there are multiple exits. There is some conflict in keeping students safe in every area. Ellinger says that although the fire exits are locked at all times from the outside, there could be issues with it being shut. If the wind catches the door while trying to shut it, or if the door is simply not pulled hard enough, it could remain unlatched. He says that this was the cause of the Uvalde shooting—an exit door malfunctioning and not being latched shut.
“And there hasn’t been a child killed in a school fire in 64 years,” says Ellinger. This is why he wants building codes to be reconsidered to protect students from active shooters, while also protecting them from fires with the sprinklers and fire systems in the building, which he believes are sufficient.
“Considering that we have a school shooter situation that might take priority now,” says Ellinger.
With the increase in protective equipment in schools, along with the decrease in deaths related to school fires, he believes that shooter protocols should be prioritized over fire protocols.