Sounding the Alarm: One City’s Code Changes Prompt a Larger Discussion About Security

By Jessica Ferris

The International Code Council (ICC) develops model codes and standards used in the design, build and compliance processes for constructing safe, sustainable, affordable and resilient structures. The concept is simple: ensure that buildings are constructed properly and safely, and in ways that withstand the forces of nature without straining energy or depleting our natural resources. But is there another aspect to safety that the model codes should try to tackle for building occupants? How about life safety?

The idea summons numerous philosophical questions. Is it the job of codes to protect inhabitants from outside intruders? Is the threat of a home invasion outside of the scope of the international codes? These are questions currently being considered at the ICC’s code development hearings for the 2021 International Residential Code (IRC). The impetus came from a proposal involving sidehinged exterior doors that was presented during the ICC Committee Action Hearings in Albuquerque.

The proposal seeks to add a “Physical Security” section, or appendix, to the International Residential Code (IRC), establishing minimum physical security standards for all side-hinged exterior doors of residential dwelling units and attached garages, including doors that lead from the garage to the dwelling unit itself.

The proposal is based on code requirements that were developed for the city of Overland Park, Ks., where a series of home invasions in 1996 resulted in the sexual assault of several women. The city conducted hundreds of surveys of residents in an effort to come up with a solution, the results of which prompted the development of a building code for making homes safer and more secure by way of their entry doors. Why doors? Proponents and other research suggest that they’re the main point of attack for home invasion. Entry doors can upend the hopes of an intruder who anticipates that a swift kick will get them in, ideally holding them off until law enforcement can arrive. The longer an intruder spends trying to gain access, the greater the risk of detection and the sooner they’ll give up on the attempt.

The proposal was not approved at the ICC hearings in Albuquerque as the code committee was keen on identifying areas for improvement, but it did raise empathy and a common interest in exploring the idea for how reinforcement criteria for side-hinged entry door systems can play a role in home security.

Jessica Ferris is director of codes and standards for the World Millwork Alliance.

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