Emergency Exit Doors – What Can I do to Protect my Patrons and my FEC?

One frequent problem I find is illegal “Emergency Exit Doors”.  You ask, “What is an Illegal Emergency Exit Door”?  An “Illegal Emergency Exit Door” is one that has slide bolts, slide bars and paddle locks installed and secured during business hours.  Also, tables, chairs, boxes and even equipment blocking emergency exit doors.  This is very frustrating because I’m not inspecting warehouses but Family Entertainment Center and Bowling Centers in which your children and families come to play and have fun. 

Panic exit door hardware is designed to allow people to exit easily and safely from your FEC in an emergency. The main criterion for an exit device is that it must open in one motion. These devices must be easy to use so that even small children or physically impaired adults can operate them. A basic latch or deadbolt with a push bar or push paddle that releases the lock satisfies this requirement.

Unfortunately, the ease of exiting rear doors can leave FEC’s vulnerable to theft and can tempt FEC owners to illegally modify the emergency exits.

Illegal attempts to deter theft through emergency exit doors include obstructing the EXIT door with piles of boxes or chairs; adding locks; replacing panic hardware; placing “barrier bars” across the doors; and even chaining exit doors.

DON‘T DO IT! Adding any obstacle or device to the panic hardware could cause confusion or panic if someone needed to exit from the door in a hurry. They should be able to expect that the door would release with no other motion than a simple push.

Life Safety code NFPA 101T, which is the basis of most model building codes, says that no other lock may be installed on a door equipped with a panic or fire exit device. In fact, even a chain hanging nearby would be in violation of the life safety code if it is there for the intention of locking the exit device.

Ironically, it is not even legal to have “barrier bars” or additional deadbolts on the door for use after business hours. Someone has the right to exit a location without prior knowledge or skill even if they are illegally in that location.

As an FEC owner what can you do about this problem?
1. Comply with Life safety codes. It saves lives. Make certain that all exit and Fire exit doors are free from obstruction and fitted with panic hardware certified to comply with Life Safety codes.

2. Protect yourself. Select panic hardware that deters theft through the back door. Find a local supplier that provides compliant panic hardware device that acts like a barrier bar when the door is closed (greatly reducing the risk of break-ins from outside). There are models with alarms that sound when the door is opened and the unit can be integrated into your FEC alarm system so unauthorized door openings can be detected.

The bottom line is it ILLEGAL to block or lock emergency exit doors!  And this is not just during business hours, but 24/7.  Even a thief in the night has the right to safely exit your FEC in the event of an emergency.

If you have any questions regarding emergency exit doors or would like information on the Sterling & Sterling/Family Entertainment Safety Association insurance program, please visit www.insuremyfec.com and Ask Matt.


Sterling & Sterling, Inc. is ranked as one of the top 50 Privately Held Insurance Brokerages in the United States. We help our clients reduce risk and spend less with our unique Risk Profile System®. By using these tools, on average, we have saved our clients 25% on their overall insurance costs. To see how we can help you create a safer, more successful family entertainment center, reach out to one of our insurance professionals today by contacting us here or calling toll free at (800) 767-7837.

2 thoughts on “Emergency Exit Doors – What Can I do to Protect my Patrons and my FEC?

  • It’s important for any commercial building to have an emergency exit. It’s even more dire that you ensure that you follow the rules around them! Leaving things in the path of the emergency exit is just adding obstacles to safety, and it could cost a life should the unthinkable happen.

  • I never knew that emergency doors could have devices that tell you which door has been opened. My brother just got a business building and is making sure everything is up to code. I will have to tell him that an emergency door device could help him locate the emergency or even people that might be in danger.

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