Pharmacy Door Locks

Q: Is it a common practice to keep pharmacy access controlled doors so they will not unlock on a fire alarm activation? Texas Pharmacy board requirements to secure medications is the reasoning behind this setup, which I feel is wrong. Narcotics are secured within the pharmacy area in a narcotics room, so the requirement for securing narcotics and meds is compliant, but I believe the main pharmacy door should release in the event of a fire alarm activation. Our fire alarm system is designed to activate as general alarm so all electrically locked doors other than the pharmacy release. Is there a standard or exception that will allow this type of set-up? The doors can be manually released from the inside, but my concern is the obstacle created by the access control when an emergent response is required.

A: You may be confusing the old NFPA 72 requirement that all doors in the required means of egress equipped with electrical locks have to unlock on a fire alarm signal. At one time, NFPA 72 did require that, but the Life Safety Code always over-rides referenced standards when there is a conflict. In actuality, the Life Safety Code governs in a situation like this. Besides, the technical committee for NFPA 72-2010 made a change to this requirement. In section 21.9.2 of NFPA 72-2010, it says electrically locked doors in a required means of egress must unlock as prescribed by other codes, laws, and standards. This is different than what previous editions of NFPA 72 said, and now NFPA 72-2010 is clear that it differs to other codes, laws, and standards (i.e. the Life Safety Code) regarding the need to unlock a electrically locked door in the means of egress during a fire alarm. There are only five (5) exceptions to 19.2.2.2.4 of the 2012 Life Safety Code, which says doors in the path of egress must not be locked:

  1. Delayed egress locks (7.2.1.6.1) which requires the door to unlock on a fire alarm signal
  2. Access-control locks (7.2.1.6.2) which requires the door to unlock on a fire alarm signal
  3. Elevator lobby locks (7.2.1.6.3) which requires the door to unlock on a fire alarm signal
  4. Clinical needs locks (19.2.2.2.5.1) which does NOT require the door to unlock on a fire alarm signal
  5. Specialized protective measure locks (19.2.2.2.5.2) which does require the door to unlock on a fire alarm signal.

But pharmacies would not qualify for clinical needs locks (used on psychiatric units), elevator lobby locks, or specialized protective measure locks (used on OB/nursery units, ICUs and ERs). That leaves delayed egress locks or access-control locks which must unlock the door on a fire alarm signal. So, your assessment is correct in that the pharmacy door in the required means of egress cannot remain electrically locked during a fire alarm signal. If you examine the Texas Pharmacy board requirements carefully, it probably says the pharmacy must be secured against unauthorized entry… not egress.

What many people forget: The Life Safety Code governs when it comes to the means of egress and over-rides other standards and codes. Getting out of the building in the event of a fire is paramount supersedes other laws, codes or standards. Why don’t you change the locks on the pharmacy doors and eliminate the electrical locks and install standard passage locks (not deadbolt locks) that do not require more than one action to operate the door? This way, the door would not be locked in the path of egress (getting out of the pharmacy) but would remain locked against unauthorized entry during a fire alarm. This is what I see other hospital pharmacies do.