From Cockpit to Classroom
How lessons learned can make students safer
- By Mark Berger
- Jul 01, 2015
It is only natural that we respond to horrific situations with a renewed emphasis
on security. One need not look any further than an airport to see how
much our lives have changed in the past 40 years.
The phenomenon of airplane hijackings in the late 1960s and early 1970s
led to new policies and procedures. Airports, originally envisioned with
the same design philosophy as train stations, could no longer remain open environments.
With each subsequent terror cycle airport security was ratcheted up a
notch, culminating with the shoes off, no liquids barrier now in place.
The reaction to the brazen commandeering of airplanes on Sept. 11, 2001
changed the mindset beyond airports to the airplane itself. On one of the first flights
from New York City’s LaGuardia to Washington’s Reagan National airport after it
reopened in 2001, there was strict screening prior to boarding the flight; passengers
were met with a new prohibition: no one was permitted to leave their seat within one
hour of landing. Because the total flight time was less than one hour, passengers had
to remain in their seats for the entire flight. Had anyone broken this rule, the aircraft
would have been diverted to Dulles airport for security reasons.
While some restrictions on board planes have been relaxed—you can leave your
seat during the last hour of the flight—there are still remnants of the post 9/11 mentality.
For example, there is no congregating permitted in the aisles or near the lavatories.
Air marshals are secretly present on many flights and food carts and/or flight
attendants are strategically positioned to block the aisle whenever a crew member
exits or enters the cockpit. While all of these protocols are vitally important for
maintaining security, it is important to recognize that they have been carefully designed
and vetted to ensure that they do not in any way compromise life safety.
In an example inside the airport, it is essential to have fully accessible exit
doors throughout the terminals opening (in some cases) directly onto the tarmac
for quick egress in a fire or other event. Naturally, there are large signs warning
that their use is restricted to real emergencies and opening the door will set off alarms. In fact, not only does a local alarm sound,
entire terminals have been evacuated, flights delayed
and airports closed when offenders have opened
emergency exit doors—a tremendous inconvenience
to passengers but one which is necessary in order to
ensure there is safe egress in an emergency. This is an
example of respecting safety codes while meeting today’s
heightened security needs.
As we approach the 25th anniversary of the bombing
of the World Trade Center in the below-grade
parking garage (1993), the lessons learned are as relevant
today as they were then: increase security, but
never compromise safety.
After the destruction witnessed that day, surely almost
any security measure proposed during rebuilding
would have been embraced and accepted. But having
observed the problems caused by makeshift security
solutions put in place prior to the bombing, Doug
Karpiloff, director of security at the World Trade
Center, knew better. He saw fire doors whose latches
had been removed upon the installation of other security
devices, and he witnessed how they contributed
to the spread of fire. He saw workers who had become
trapped in spaces because of the lack of adherence to
basic safety procedures.
He challenged everyone involved in the rebuilding
to provide the highest level of forced entry protection
and electronic security while also respecting life safety
codes. If products did not exist to meet the new electronic
monitoring needs the security consultants recommended,
he challenged the industry to create them.
That is what true security professionals do. They lead
by demanding, not compromising. Years later, Karpillof
continued to demonstrate that life safety did
not need to be sacrificed for security. He was widely
recognized and lauded for his achievements, which resulted
in the saving of countless lives on 9/11, when
the World Trade Center was attacked from the air.
It’s vitally important to keep these lessons in mind
when considering the chain of events that led to the
March 2015 crash of the Germanwings flight. Here
was a total lapse of life safety that had not been envisioned
or anticipated. Security protocols put into
place to prevent planes from being hijacked directly
enabled the copilot in the cockpit to prevent the captain
from entering the cockpit.
Security protocols are commonly developed in reaction
to any traumatic event that occurs. On 9/11,
the hijackers were able to commandeer the airplanes
because the pilots opened the doors. We have not
seen any reports that the cockpit doors were forcibly
breached by the hijackers. As a result, an electronic
system was put in place on commercial airplane cockpit
doors with a lockout feature that included a keypad
lockout button and a toggle lock with a five minute
delayed entry. This system was meant to ensure
that pilots could lock terrorists out of the cockpit; the
designers never considered the possibility of a pilot
going rogue and locking out the other pilot.
Life safety professionals and security professionals
both look at doors and methods of operation, but
each group asks different “what if” questions. Because
the question “What if someone in the cockpit
wanted to lock all others out” was not considered as
a major design factor, the system was created where
this could occur. Failing to respect or minimize the
life safety risk of a sole person in the cockpit having
absolute control of the aircraft resulted in the Germanwings
We are all too aware of the responsibility for assuring
the security of schoolchildren and teachers,
and for the need to develop technology and resources
to prevent their endangerment. While some providers
have developed solutions for prevention and response,
some of these address only the goal of preventing access to the school classroom
by a would-be assailant. As important
as this goal is, securing classroom doors
must never be considered from only one
point of view.
Schools and classrooms are occupied
on a daily basis by students and
teachers. At times classrooms may be
unattended by faculty or an adult, allowing
anyone in the classroom control
of the door and any locking devices.
For years, this was the reason
classroom door locking was treated
as an action to be controlled by key,
similar to a public restroom. However,
we now recognize the need to secure
classrooms more quickly to prevent
loss of life when an assailant with
weapons has chosen a school as the
target. The commercial door hardware
industry has quickly responded
with a wide variety of mechanical and
Protecting students and teachers in
the classroom from an assailant must
not sacrifice the critical role doors and
single-motion exiting play in life safety.
Similarly, speedy access into the room
by school officials and first responders
is critical at all times.
We can never tolerate a potential
“cockpit door” situation where someone
in the room has the ability to prevent
entry. Products in the marketplace
that may be effective in preventing
forced entry must never be installed
if they prevent authorized entry. The
unintended risks and potential consequences
of door blocking products
which prevent entry are too great.
As just one example, bullying is a
major concern in schools. Significant efforts
are being launched to counter the
harmful effects of this behavior, which
have sadly resulted in many student
deaths. Imagine the harm which could
be inflicted upon a student imprisoned
in a classroom by a bully. Certainly this
is not a situation any responsible school
or public safety official would want to
create nor is it a liability any student,
parent or school district should have
as a consequence of providing a door
blocking device in the classroom for
easy use on the door.
Creating effective solutions for
cockpit doors must consider all the human
factors, not just those presented
by the need to protect against someone
who wants to do harm from outside
the door. Similarly, safety and security
professionals must consider all the elements
involved in life safety when developing
best practices. Anyone who
has a role in creating a safe and secure
environment for students should study
all the lessons of 9/11, Sandy Hook,
Germanwings and other tragedies and
respect them as they provide guidance
to school districts and beyond.
This article originally appeared in the July 2015 issue of Security Today.