by John W. Herbert
Normally, the doors in the government office building that I work in look like the doors in any other office building.
One door, one doorknob. It’s a simple but efficient system that has worked well through the ages and easy adaptable to both coming and going. This system really needs no upgrading (not until the technology behind those wooshing Star Trek doors is cheaply available).
Clearly, the inventers of the door had not counted on the facilities management personnel of the British Columbia government.
One morning in June we discovered that our normal doorknobs had been doubled up. A second doorknob had been added just below the first knob. Holes had been drilled throught the steel doors and a second door knob installed on everydoor on the starirwell. To enter the stairwell, now one had to turn both handles. To enter the building from the stairwell, one had to turn both handles and wave your entry card in front of the sensor. No announcement was given as to why an extra doorknob on every floor was deemed necessary; they simply appeared over night.
This change was made on our designated emergency stairwell. In the event of a fire or some such calamity, this is the escape route that most of the 140 or so people in our four-story building will use. Also, all the washrooms in the building are on the landings in this stairwell, so it receives a lot of use, presumably at least once a work day by each employee. It is a secure stairwell; you to have one of those new-fangled electronic keys the size of a credit card to access the building from the stairwell. However, you need nothing to enter the stairwell from the building. All you used to have to do is turn the handle and open the door so that you would not be fumbling for a key card while the building is burning or collapsing around you in an earthquake.
Events later in the day were to put the issue of the suddenly appearing extra doorknobs on the back burner as Legionella was discovered in our air conditioning system, forcing the evacuation and temporary abandonment of our building for three weeks (and that’s another article for another time).
When the Legionella threat was over and we returned, we re-discovered the double-knobber doorways. We further discovered that the security passes were not working – you could not re-enter the building from the stairwell no matter how many doorknobs you turned. Since the washrooms are accessible only from this stairwell, any employee who used a washroom was effectively locked out of the building. They could only return by going out through the basement and walking around the building and re-entering through the front door.
The work-around to this was simple – a carefully placed phone book would prevent the door from closing and access to and from the stairwell would be maintained. However, the security of the building was compromised and anyone who gained access to the basement car park (not a terribly hard thing to do if you really wanted to) would have access to every floor in the building. And the stairwell was now useless as a fireblock in case of a fire.
Fortunately, this state only lasted for a day, and the security system was fixed and functioning properly.
A couple of days later, the original doorknobs were removed were replaced by a steel plate, and below these we were left with our new, lower doorknobs and that seemed to be the end of the matter.
Or would have been, except that when the original doorknobs were removed, they tinkered with the security system. Running a few minutes late one day, I discovered that the security system now locked the stairwell doors after hours. In other words, if you were in the building after hours (as many people who work late are), you could not enter the stairwell. The doors were now electronically locked and nothing was going to get them open. The stairwell is the emergency exit, but now, stuck in the building after hours, I was confronted by a door handle that won’t open anything, and a useless security pass because the only sensor is on the other side of the door. The only exit was through the building’s front entrance. Anyone prevented from reaching the front door by a fire or other disaster would have been a goner.
I reported this malfunction the next day and the security system was reprogrammed to work correctly.
Now, the latest chapter. Quietly and overnight, the doorknobs have been moved from their new lower position back to their original higher position. Two months after this mysterious game of musical doorknobs began, we are left with our doorknobs right back where they started and ugly metal plates where the doors were cut to install the other doorknobs.
To date, no explanation has ever been provided to the employees for this apparently complete waste of somebody’s time and taxpayers’ money. There is probably a moral here. Maybe something like this: “There’s already too many knobs in government.”
originally published in Under the Ozone Hole Number 17, October 2005