Why Master Key Systems Prematurely Fail

It is rare when a singular event leads to the replacement of a master key system. Usually, there are many symptoms that can be detected before a master key system is fully defective.


It is rare when a singular event leads to the replacement of a master key system. Usually there are many symptoms that can be detected before a master key system is fully defective. As the person who performs service to the system, the locksmith is the first person to discover symptoms and can...


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Flawed keying strategies

Master key systems allow the locksmith to designate groups of key combinations for specific use with a sub-master over the group. The initial development of these groups is the locksmith's keying strategy. Keying strategies can be developed for people, places, and things.

When keying strategies are developed for people, key combinations are reserved for use by persons or departments within the company's organization. These keying strategies by nature will be volatile as persons will change jobs or responsibilities and departments will move from locations.

Expect these keying strategies to rapidly expire as change affects the persons or departments. If the keying strategy involves many key combinations, it can lead to premature replacement of a master key system.

Keying to places is more static. A place might be a location like a building or part of a building.

Persons or departments that work in the location might come and go. Retrieving keys allows the locksmith to re-issue the keys to the location's new tenants. Keying to places is more reasonable as long as existing keys can be retrieved.

Keying to things is very static. Examples of things are: padlocks; desks; cabinets; utility lockers; and tool boxes. These things move around but require less rekey.

Regarding all key strategies, it is important to retrieve keys when necessary.

Not having in place a mechanism to retrieve keys

Whatever the level of the key, it is important to have a mechanism in place that guarantees that the key will be returned. Management can establish written policy that persons need to return keys when no longer needed or when asked by management to do so, but such policies are rarely enforced.

Frequently, the responsibility of key retrieval is left to the locksmith to manage and without the resources needed. The locksmith may not know when a person no longer needs a key. Persons change jobs or are terminated without the locksmith's knowledge and before keys can be retrieved.

Too often the locksmith is made the "key police" and asked to retrieve a key when the company demands it back. If the company demands keys be returned, the collection should involve the security personnel.

An effective means to retrieve keys is to develop a working arrangement with the locksmith, human resources and security.
When controlled keys (keys that are part of the master key system) are issued, the recipient of the keys should sign an agreement to turn the keys in when requested by the company. The agreement should have a "bounty" attached to the keys that can be automatically deducted if the keys are not returned when asked to do so. A turnkey process needs to be developed where the initial control of the key is activated and maintained by the locksmith, then reports are sent to human resources.

When human resources change an employee's status, they refer to the report as a preliminary clearance. If the employee is not accountable for any keys, the status change moves forward. If the employee has outstanding keys, the keys are returned on the spot or the transaction must be rectified through the locksmith before status is changed. In this manner, companies can guarantee that keys are retrieved.

When keys are not returned, locks are unnecessarily rekeyed. Every unnecessary rekey ebbs away at the master key system, especially if the key that wasn't retrieved was a master key.

When status of issued keys are not properly tracked

The primary responsibility of the locksmith is to track the status of every issued key that is part of a master key system. This can be done on paper using a filing system that cross-references people, places, and things. Preferably the tracking is performed by computer using either a commercial application designed for the purpose,; custom-made spreadsheets or databases.

What should be tracked is:

1. When the key was issued.

2. Who the key was issued to.

3. Who authorized its use and for what reason.

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