Assessing Existing Master Key Systems

Two powerful techniques can assist locksmiths when assessing existing master key systems. These techniques work on all types of pin-tumbler locks, regardless of chamber counts, or progressions under the TMK.


Most facility managers or building owners rely on locksmiths to maintain their keying systems. In most cases these keying systems will involve master keying. The details and plans of master keying are complicated and sometimes arcane, and always non-intelligible to the customers of...


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Most facility managers or building owners rely on locksmiths to maintain their keying systems. In most cases these keying systems will involve master keying. The details and plans of master keying are complicated and sometimes arcane, and always non-intelligible to the customers of locksmiths.

When managers and owners decide to transfer services from one lock service to the next, they will give the new lock service any keying records and key generation resources left by the former service. At this time, it is beneficial for both the customer and the lock service to assess the condition of the existing keying system.

A proper assessment takes time and some materials, and the customer should be prepared to incur a charge for the time involved. When customers are charged for such services, the assessment needs to take the form of a written statement as to the condition of the key system.

The purpose of the assessment
You wouldn’t buy a home without sending in expert inspectors to determine the condition of the home and to discover any existing problems that are not evident. The inspection of the keying system requires the inspection of an expert to assess the condition of the system and to discover any problems.

The value to the customer is to limit liability and recover repair costs due to negligence or poor workmanship relating to the former lock service. An assessment can identify problems that must be immediately addressed. Customers may use the assessment to persuade the former locksmith to pay for such repairs or sue for damages.

The value to the new lock service is to establish the existing condition of the keying system, so that future services can be evaluated from that point forward and to avoid being held responsible for inherent errors in the system and any prior negligence on the part of the prior lock service.

Locksmiths should be prepared to assess keying systems whether or not it relates to a request to takeover an existing system. Customers may ask locksmiths to assess keying systems that are maintained by other locksmiths as a means of evaluating the integrity of the service, in other words, to keep their vendors honest.

This is fair, and is an effective means for managers and owners to evaluate the quality of services provided.

In order to be fair, locksmiths who perform assessments must be objective and base their findings on fact and science; and never on guesses or opinions.

Performing the assessment
Start assessments by establishing working guidelines.

If the assessment is to evaluate the customer’s existing lock service, rules of engagement need to be established. Does there need to be a company liaison between the assessor and the current vendor? Will the company empower the assessor to approach the vendor directly? Is the assessment to be performed without the direct engagement of the vendor? Guidelines must be set.
A common guideline dictates that the vendor will submit copies of records and will detail how keys are generated. If materials are not forthcoming, it is assumed that materials do not exist. In this manner there is no direct engagement between vendor and assessor.

Another common scenario is that the owner is terminating the lock service and may never get records or key-generation resources. Any missing materials will need to be recreated, taking much time and resources.
Periodic vendor audits are healthy and allow the customer to archive valuable records for safeguard.

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