In Case of Emergency, Break Glass?

Last week, I took the following photo at the northwest exit of the downtown branch of the public library!

In Case of Emergency, Break Glass?In Case of Emergency, Break Glass?

So, you know that while I think the design concept behind the downtown library is somewhat intriguing, I am not a big fan of it as a public building. I believe that just like you and me, municipal architecture has a responsibility to be a good public citizen.

To residents, this means things not littering, stopping at red lights, and ending your 4th of July celebrations by midnight.

Public buildings have different responsibilities:

  • Respecting the street edge
  • Presenting a gracious and understandable entry
  • And perhaps most important, not trapping their occupants inside in case of an emergency

Though the entire facade (including the exit door) is made of glass, it is unlikely that occupants could break it in an emergency - it is three layers thick, plus a layer of copper mesh.

I hope there is a good reason for blockading this exit with a 2x4 from the outside but I can't think of one. While it is unlikely that there would be an emergency necessitating use of this exit, emergencies are by definition unplanned and emergency exits are not allowed to be blocked.


That's on the end with the kids section isn't it? I hope someone forwards this picture to the Fire Marshal.

Danelle Stamps | Jul 5th, 2010 at 11:19 am

Yes, this is the end with the kids' section. I can't picture how this exit is accessed from the inside, but per code there would have to be emergency lighting and emergency exit signage.

I would guess they were having trouble with people, perhaps children, opening the door and someone made the (poor) decision to simply block it. I think the first step should be education of facilities staff. If that doesn't work, the city should get involved.

DMPerspective | Jul 5th, 2010 at 11:35 am

I emailed the DMPL to alert them of this situation and received a response from the acting director. Her guess is that the exit was blocked while the windows were being washed recently. They have also had several panels replaced. It is not their policy to block the door, and it was most likely done by the workers.

Since work was not going on when I took the photo, the workers must have neglected to remove the 2x4 when they finished. It is my suggestion that the library make it part of their facilities policy that contractors may not block exits without prior approval of the library. If approval to block an exit is granted, the contractor should provide a written plan that includes a specific person responsible for removing the block, and a specific time period that the exit path will be blocked.

However, a much better option during exterior work would be signage, caution cones, and/or caution tape on the inside to warn people not to open the door.

DMPerspective | Jul 7th, 2010 at 10:40 am

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