Key Systems: The First Line of Defense

Choose and manage your high security key system carefully.


In the world of security there are a number of areas that need to be in sync with each other. One of those areas is physical security devices and the key system of a facility. Since 9-11 we have seen an increase in onsite security. This type of security is in the form of guard force personnel...


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Key Tracking: Does the manufacturer of the key system you are selling offer key tracking software? Can this system be downloaded onto tracking software owned by the customer? In most cases the answer is yes. This is an important part of physical security.

Cutting keys to a secure system and giving them out without knowing who has them is very irresponsible and another liability problem. Security can be tightened by controlling key distribution.

There are two types of key tracking systems, one to know where the specific key code is being used and the hardware on that door opening. This type of system does not keep track of key users. The second is for security officials to track users of the key system. Some key tracking systems provide both so different users can track what they want in the system. Random key auditing should also be available. Knowing where keys are at all times is important.

Managing Key Systems: Locksmiths who write key systems should be sure that someone at the facility is put in charge of maintaining the key system. When a locksmith designs and pins cylinders for a facility, that locksmith takes on the liability of the key system. Properly maintaining key records assures the customer that there are not unknown interchanges in the key system that would compromise security. All keying records should be maintained in a secure area. Paper keying records should be coded with a system number only and should be crossed referenced with the facility name which is kept on a secure computer in another area. These levels of security are designed to keep any causal observer from viewing records.

Key User Responsibility: Key users should be instructed to keep the locksmith informed when a lock starts acting differently. Examples are: key is hard to turn, cylinder loose, knob/lever falling off the door, door hard to pull open, door slamming when closing, and lastly, any lock or door parts missing. A lock cylinder should never be operated if the key is broken, bent, or twisted. Using a key in this condition may damage the cylinder and may jam or break off in the lock cylinder causing a security violation.

Keys should never be left in a car or unattended. Users should treat their keys like they treat their wallet and never misplace them.

Missing lock cylinders are one of the most serious security violations because the cylinder can be taken apart and a usable key can be made to gain access to a facility. In the case of an SFIC system, losing one of these cores is a serious violation of security because the core removable key information is contained in every core. Once this control key is made, violators can move through a building at ease by removing your lock core and installing their own. Always recommend a UL 437 removable core system with a patented key.

Reliability and Dependability: Go with a high security cylinder manufacturer that produces these cylinders as their main product line and not as an extension to existing lower security cylinders. Check references. Ask your locksmith distributor what they like and don’t like about different systems. Read their printed guarantees to make sure that you have achieved a safe comfort level before moving forward.

Selling and installing a patented high security cylinder and key should be viewed as a partnership with the manufacturer. There is no manufacturer that has not had a problem along these lines. The important question is how did they handle the problem? Did they step up and say they had a problem and we need to fix it right away?

To Rekey or Not To Rekey: Once control of a key system is lost, rekeying is a necessity. Key tracking determines who has what key to what door. When an individual key is missing, rekeying only the cylinder with the missing key is not a big job. The lock cylinder can be rekeyed within the present master key system and new keys issued. The old key combination should removed from the system so it can never be used again.

Rekeying becomes a big job when a master key is missing. The number of cylinders that will need to be rekeyed depends on the level of the master key. Each level of a master key controls a specific number of cylinders. The absolute worst key to lose is the Great Grand Master Key also known as the TMK Top master key. This key controls all master keys and cylinders. The TMK key should never be given out and be closely controlled at all times.

Always remember the ‘rule of ones’. For every one thousand unauthorized key duplications, there will be 100 minor incidents and from that will be 10 major violations which will result in one catastrophic liability problem. A key system should always have Durability, Usability, and Convenience built in so that you have flexibility. Always remember, a secure facility is a safe facility. 

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