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Innovative Public Facility Design: Planning for Safety and Security

Stainless Steel Bathroom Partitions

The concept of “desperate times calling for desperate measures” has always been somewhat of a social more throughout history, and has, more modernly, become the theme of the hour in most current events news related to public facility design.

By definition, the popular idiom mandates that when faced with dire circumstances, taking equally dire action is necessary to survive. It also insinuates an improvised reaction to something unexpected and extreme, rather than freezing up and panicking in the face of adversity.

Given our unpredictable world, preparing for all tragedies like mass shootings is impossible at all times and places.

Thinking About Security & Restrooms

Sure, it’s been expert-proven that threat assessment and public facility design can drastically decrease the element of surprise and, as a direct result, the number of casualties usually involved in these circumstances. But what happens when it’s 2 a.m. on a run-of-the-mill Sunday morning and everyone has their guards down at a venue where the point is to try and escape the stress of reality?

During extreme violence like at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub and the Parisian Bataclan, instinctive responses with limited resources often prove ineffective against assault weapons.

So, in cases like these, what’s a person to do to survive?

Choosing Fight Or Flight

Experts recommend fleeing, sheltering, and possibly defending during a mass attack.

“Your options are run, hide or fight,” Washington D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said on an episode of 60 Minutes aired in November 2015 shortly after the deadly Paris attacks, echoing the United States Department of Homeland Security’s 2013 funded message of “Run, Hide, Fight.”

“I always say if you can get out, getting out’s your first option, your best option... If you’re in a position to try and take the gunman down, to take the gunman out, it’s the best option for saving lives before police can get there.”

Overpowering an attacker with a gun is often not feasible, particularly in one-on-one situations. Fleeing is the best option, but exits can be dangerous once the gunman is inside.

Severe bottlenecking increases the risk of getting wounded while fleeing through crowded exits. This leaves a third--and more common--option, which is to take cover and keep from being seen.

While experts like J. Pete Blair, the executive director of the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University and co-author of Active Shooter: Events and Response, warily calls hiding a “passive action,” it is, more often than not, the only available and safe solution.

Anyone who studies the matter will tell you that buying time is the key to successful hiding; you want to give yourself enough time to clear your head and assess the situation and your available options.

Time To Find A Safe Place During An Emergency

Hiding requires finding a spot to stay unseen and gain time to strategize or wait for police. Time is crucial during an attack with one or more assailants. Identifying a location that allows for quick reactions is key to improving outcomes.

Nightclubs, restaurants, and concert venues lack heavy objects for cover, making hiding under tables insufficient for safety. Active shooters commonly look for higher casualties and less effort. The more barricaded you are, the better.

Which is why in cases such as the Paris attack and, more prevalently, during the Orlando shooting, people seeking refuge in bathroom stalls is a go-to instinct, especially when these are often the only accessible places in which to find a split second of reprieve when exits are being blocked and access to other rooms isn’t an option.

Implementing Safety Tactics

Experts advise against seeking alternative exits in public facility design due to potential dead ends. Toilet partitions can be advantageous in emergencies. They’ve even started implementing bathroom safety tactics in places like preschools, instructing young children on how to properly hide in a bathroom during a lockdown procedure in the event they can’t manage to get anywhere else.

Even so, it is important to take this material with a grain of salt. This article isn't a comprehensive guide to surviving a large-scale attack and shouldn't be treated as one. Past experience and strategic reasoning suggest that public bathrooms are not ideal places to seek refuge during an attack due to limited escape routes. However, it's crucial to understand the available options.

Not all toilet partitions are made equally, and some of the flimsier materials won’t offer the same type of aid the more sturdy bathroom partitions installation can afford. The amount of success you’ll have utilizing stalls as a tool in an emergency comes down to elements of design and manufacturing.

Difference Between Cover & Concealment

In a previous article written to break down the viability of commercial door protection against an active shooter, we highlighted the integral difference between cover and concealment when seeking shelter as described by Shooting Illustrated. Simply put, cover protects, concealment hides. Knowing the difference between the two is eminent in how you proceed after hiding, specifically in bathroom stalls.

Bathroom stalls typically provide little protection against bullets. Manufacturers often use powder-coated metal for partitions, which are unlikely to stop or slow bullets from any weapon. More solid materials like stainless steel may stave off some of the impact, which might be enough to evade major damage or fatal contact, but none will provide a complete block to ammo. Concealment and a few precious moments of added time are what a bathroom stall has the capacity to offer you.

Single Occupancy Vs Toilet Stalls

While single occupancy stalls and full-height doors and walls are becoming much more popular  public restroom designs for privacy concerns, many venues still have and continue to install standard-height powder coated metal partitions to save on cost and increase efficiency. These are more conveniently installed, but are much more accessible to an intruder. This is the type of stall design the Orlando victims sought refuge within. Successful hiders position themselves to avoid being seen through gaps in the stall.

Crouching on a toilet and minimizing your profile makes you harder to detect by an active shooter prioritizing easy targets.

An example of this strategy in action comes from the night of the Pulse nightclub shooting when Orlando, a 52-year-old patron of the club, crammed himself on top of a toilet in a separate, smaller stall so the shooter couldn’t see his feet. He managed to survive the attack. This tactic and separating from the crowd bought Orlando extra time until police arrived.

Crouching on the toilet and minimizing your profile reduces the risk of being a target during gunfire.

Partition materials don't withstand rapid fire, highlighting the need for safe stall design and installation.

Overlap With Privacy Concerns

Design elements concealing individuals in shootings overlap with privacy reforms from transgender bathroom debates, aiding restroom safety.

Single occupancy stalls with solid walls and secure locks are ideal during active shooter situations. Commercial wood doors slow bullets, reducing injury risk. Strong locks and privacy deter shooters from entering.

Full Height Stalls

Full-height stalls in multiuser bathrooms offer solid doors, locks, and thick walls, providing some protection against bullets. The more enclosed and secure the stall, the more people can hide inside without drawing attention.

In Orlando, an overcrowded handicap stall attracted the assailant's attention, resulting in more fatalities and a hostage situation. However, to an outside observer, multiple people crammed into a fully enclosed stall may not appear different from one person hiding. If everyone stays silent and turns off their cell phones, this can be an effective but last-resort method to protect. If the shooter fires at stall doors, a crowded stall raises the risk of serious injury.

Upgrade standard partitions for more privacy and reduced visibility when full-height stalls aren't available. Partition distributors often offer elite grade panels and hardware that increase the height of side and door panels while also making the gaps between the door and side panel virtually nonexistent. The full-length door makes it harder for a shooter to see if someone is on the toilet seat.




Jan 3, 2018
Wayne Foreman


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