Deadly Pushbuttons

By Brian Rhodes, Published on May 15, 2013

A simple and common misunderstanding in specifying pushbuttons can kill people trying to escape burning buildings. Furthermore, determining buttons that are 'safe' versus 'deadly' can be difficult to detect unless you check how they are implemented. We explain this issue and options to resolve inside.

RTE by the Books

Most Electronic Access Control systems must comply with national/ international code books. We examine the subject in our "Request to Exit Tutorial", a helpful primer on the subject. Perhaps the broadest authority is the IBC (International Building Code) part 1008.1.4.4 that affirms:

"A manual unlocking device (push button) shall result in direct interruption of power to the lock – independent of the access control system electronics. When the push button is actuated, the doors must remain unlocked for 30 seconds minimum. The push button must include signage stating “Push to Exit” and must be located 40” to 48” vertically above the floor and within 5’ of the doors. Ready access must be provided to the push button."

Notice among the key requirements are two key elements:

  • Direct interruption: The RTE pushbutton cannot be wired as an input into the door controller, but MUST break power to the lock when depressed (typically maglocks).
  • 30 Seconds: The length of time contacts must be MUST be 30 seconds.

Failing to conform with these two items can result in trapping people trying to escape in a emergency.

The Right Pushbutton

In the example door below, the access control installer is using maglocks to secure a busy perimeter opening. The customer asked the installer to use some extra 'Push to Open' pushbuttons instead of agreeing to buy the proposed RTE buttons as part of the access system. Not wanting to lose the sale over an inexpensive component, the installer agreed to use the extras in place of RTE pushbuttons, and considering the button language is very close to what normally is printed on RTE, the installer felt confident in the slight change.

The installer wired the button to interrupt power to the maglocks, and testing the button showed it did in fact drop power to the maglocks as required by code.

Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News
Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News

However, this installation missed a key point of the code: the latching delay, or timer function of the button. Why is this function so critical?

Timing is Everything

In the example above, the maglock loses power as soon as the button is pushed. However, as soon as the button is released, power is returned to the maglock, relocking the door. Consider that even in a panic situation, it would take several seconds between pushing the button and reaching the unlocked door, and left 'as-is', the door could become a grim example of how escapees are trampled or trapped as they hurriedly rush a locked emergency opening.

The key feature that is missing is a timed 'open' feature of the contacts. A proper RTE pushbutton would include a mechanical or electric timer that would continue to drop power to maglocks for a certain length of time, typically 30 seconds. This allows adequate travel time between pushing the button and passing through the door in an emergency.

Not All 'RTE Labeled' Buttons Timed

The mythical situation above would not pass code for a variety of reasons; including the fact that an ADA wheelchair "door open" button cannot be substituted for RTE Pushbuttons based on verbiage and visibility, aside from function. Those buttons are used to activate automatic door openers and would not likey be used in conjunction with maglocked doors to begin with.

However, finding untimed RTE buttons is common in the mass market. These buttons are useful when combined with external timers or other building management systems where a momentary contact is required to release door locks. Although if improperly installed, these buttons have the same illegal function as the ADA pushbutton, and using them often requires additional equipment or local AHJ exceptions to the IBC code in order to be used.

Two Forms of Timed Button

For Electronic Access Control, RTE buttons with an integrated timer typically takes one of two types:

  • Electric: This type of button features a low-voltage or battery powered electronic logic timer that ensures a configured period expires before restoring power to locks.
  • Pneumatic: These button feature a plunger and an air-powered piston that retracts at a slow interval. The RTE buttons require no outside power source or air supply for function, and generally are configurable for the same periods as the electric versions.

In either case, the button is not intended to be wired as an input into a door controller to use the access control system to break contact for 30 seconds. The RTE buttons must be directly installed to the lock, so that a malfunctioning system cannot potentially cause harm. The button must be installed as if it worked to physically sever power to the lock under any circumstance.

Murky Codes, Cloudier AHJs

While the IBC Code is very clear on the installation and function of these buttons, many local exemptions that override the IBC are not as well defined. Commonly, local code exceptions are ratified to clarify superficial requirements (ie: instead of green "Push to Exit", buttons must be red, lit, and bi-lingual "EXIT/SALIDA" buttons) but they fail to address the critical timed portion of the IBC requirement.

Due to an impartial understanding of this feature and why it is so important, many AHJs might unwittingly accept half-measure substitutes. Because local codes often do not describe devices well enough, it is incumbent on Access Control designers and installers to prevent a tragedy before it happens.

Comments (7) : Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports

Exit Devices For Access Control Tutorial on Aug 25, 2020
Exit Devices, also called 'Panic Bars' or 'Crash Bars' are required by safety...
Breaking Into A Facility Using Canned Air Tested on Jan 28, 2020
Access control is supposed to make doors more secure, but a $5 can of...
Ubiquiti Access Control Tested on Oct 21, 2020
Ubiquiti has become one of the most widely used wireless and switch providers...
Drain Wire For Access Control Reader Tutorial on Sep 23, 2020
An easy-to-miss cabling specification plays a key role in access control, yet...
Use Access Control Logs To Constrain Coronavirus on Apr 09, 2020
Access control users have included capabilities that are not commonly used...
Vehicle Gate Access Control Guide on Mar 19, 2020
Vehicle gate access control demands integrating various systems to keep...
AHJ / Authority Having Jurisdiction Tutorial on Aug 06, 2020
One of the most powerful yet often underappreciated characters in all...
Help Security End Users Facing Coronavirus Improve Remote Access on Mar 24, 2020
Many end-users and integrators are struggling with the impact of coronavirus...
Delayed Egress Access Control Tutorial on Feb 04, 2020
Delayed Egress marks one of the few times locking people into a building is...
Door Fundamentals For Access Control Guide on Aug 24, 2020
Doors vary greatly in how difficult and costly it is to add electronic access...
ZKTeco Presents SpeedFace Recognition + Body Temperature Detection on Apr 21, 2020
ZKTeco presented its SF1008+ reader with body temperature and face mask...
Multipoint Door Lock Tutorial on Jan 23, 2020
Despite widespread use, locked doors are notoriously weak at stopping entry,...
Access Control Levels and Schedules Tutorial on Sep 29, 2020
Configuring access levels and setting up schedules is central to maintaining...
Free Online NFPA, IBC, and ADA Codes and Standards 2020 on Sep 03, 2020
Finding applicable codes for security work can be a costly task, with printed...
Verkada Disruptive Embedded Live Help on Sep 24, 2020
Call up your integrator? Have someone come by the next day? Verkada is...

Recent Reports

Consultants Online Show LIVE Today! on Oct 27, 2020
IPVM's 7th online show will feature 20+ consultants and recruiters presenting...
Eagle Eye Networks Raises $40 Million on Oct 27, 2020
Eagle Eye has raised $40 million aiming to "reinvent video...
Hikvision Q3 2020 Global Revenue Rises, US Revenue Falls on Oct 27, 2020
While Hikvision's global revenue rises driven by domestic recovery, its US...
VICE Investigates Verkada's Harassing "RawVerkadawgz" on Oct 26, 2020
This month, IPVM investigated Verkada's sexism, discrimination, and cultural...
Six Flags' FDA Violating Outdoor Dahua Fever Cameras on Oct 26, 2020
As Six Flags scrambled to reopen parks amid plummeting revenues caused by the...
ISC Brasil Digital Experience 2020 Report on Oct 23, 2020
ISC Brasil 2020 rebranded itself to ISC Digital Experience and, like its...
Top Video Surveillance Service Call Problems 2020 on Oct 23, 2020
3 primary and 4 secondary issues stood out as causing the most problems when...
GDPR Impact On Temperature / Fever Screening Explained on Oct 22, 2020
What impact does GDPR have on temperature screening? Do you risk a GDPR fine...
Security And Safety Things (S&ST) Tested on Oct 22, 2020
S&ST, a Bosch spinout, is spending tens of millions of dollars aiming to...
Nokia Fever Screening Claims To "Advance Fight Against COVID-19" on Oct 22, 2020
First IBM, then briefly Clorox, and now Nokia becomes the latest Fortune 500...
Deceptive Meridian Temperature Tablets Endanger Public Safety on Oct 21, 2020
IPVM's testing of and investigation into Meridian Kiosk's temperature...
Honeywell 30 Series and Vivotek NVRs Tested on Oct 21, 2020
The NDAA ban has driven many users to look for low-cost NVRs not made by...
Ubiquiti Access Control Tested on Oct 21, 2020
Ubiquiti has become one of the most widely used wireless and switch providers...
Avigilon Aggressive Trade-In Program Takes Aim At Competitors on Oct 20, 2020
Avigilon has launched one of the most aggressive trade-in programs the video...
Mexico Video Surveillance Market Overview 2020 on Oct 20, 2020
Despite being neighbors, there are key differences between the U.S. and...