Q: We own and operate a hotel on our hospital campus and are revamping our fire plan. Are we required to have all the hotel guests evacuate their rooms upon activation of the fire alarm? Also, we have a marked exit into a courtyard with a 6 foot high fence around it. The gate in the fence then leads to the public way. Must this gate remain unlocked for egress to the public way or can you have an assembly point inside the courtyard?
A: Section 126.96.36.199 of the 2000 Life Safety Code states the fire safety information that is posted in the hotel room is sufficient for the guests to make their own decision as to whether or not they evacuate their rooms and/or building during a fire alarm. In an obvious fire alarm testing situation, I can see that is a legitimate situation where evacuation is not necessary. But other than that, 188.8.131.52 appears to leave that decision up to the guests. However, it would seem logical to want everyone to evacuate whenever a fire alarm is activated.
In regards to the fence surrounding the courtyard, that presents other problems. Since you say it is a marked exit, then the exit discharge is required to extend to the public way. The public way is defined as a street, alley, or other similar parcel of land essentially open to the outside air, which is dedicated or otherwise permanently appropriated to the public for public use. A fenced-in area that has a locked gate does not seem to meet this definition of public way. In my opinion, the gate would have to remain unlocked. The gate would also have to be an obvious point of exit, or it would have to be marked with an illuminated exit sign, and the path of egress to the public way would need to be illuminated with emergency power. Even if you got a local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) to allow the locked gate in the courtyard, that does not mean other AHJs would see it the same way.