Developing Key Management Standards

Effective policies and procedures are the basis for proper key management.


There are reasons why companies employ locksmiths on a full-time basis. The primary advantage is timely response to emergency lock repairs and installations. Equally important is the opportunity to develop key management standards. Locksmiths who are dedicated to a single customer can do a better...


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There are reasons why companies employ locksmiths on a full-time basis. The primary advantage is timely response to emergency lock repairs and installations. Equally important is the opportunity to develop key management standards.

Locksmiths who are dedicated to a single customer can do a better job relating to their key management. Independent locksmith companies are disadvantaged as there is little time to concentrate on any one company’s keying systems. To profit and stay in business, locksmith companies must service hundreds of commercial accounts.

The timely response to emergencies is the order of the day while key issuance is best left to a designee assigned by the company. Usually the designee is the person calling the locksmith out. As designees are rotated, new procedures and ideas are usually instituted (by the designee) relating to the issuance of keys from the locksmith, to the designee, then to persons within the company.

This inconsistency adversely affects key management.

All effective key management programs share basic concepts:

  1. Institute a key department.
  2. Establish policies, procedures, and forms that cannot be easily changed.
  3. Designate departmental oversight.
  4. Perform routine audits to evaluate integrity and value.

Determine when keys are issued

Simply because a key can be produced isn’t reason enough to issue it. Key management is all about the appropriate issuance of keys.

Keys can be segregated into five distinct groups that will define how issuance occurs:

  1. Keys that can be assigned to individuals with proper clearance.
  2. Keys that cannot be assigned to individuals but require proper clearance to issue.
  3. A key that cannot be assigned to individuals and no clearance is necessary to issue.
  4. Keys that can be produced but are never issued.
  5. Keys may be assigned but cannot be produced.

In order for keys to be practically assigned to individuals, the key blanks need to be difficult to obtain. Many lock companies offer key blanks that are either patent-protected or distribution is strictly controlled.

It is illegal for after-market key blank manufacturers to produce patent-protected key blanks. There are no laws against after-market key blank manufacturers offering key blanks that are restricted from distribution by the original equipment manufacturer. Some lock manufacturers produce a number of key blanks that are not publicly known or in demand. These little-known key blanks can be used for specific applications providing some key control. (Figure 1)

When key blanks are patent-protected or restricted, these keys can be assigned to individuals with proper clearance.

Areas where access needs to be limited to list of known persons should be protected using locks that feature patent-protected or restricted key blanks.

This is reasonable as the only means to guarantee that only certain persons have access to an area is to guarantee that they cannot obtain an unauthorized key by having a duplicate produced at a hardware store or public key shop.

Keys that are personally assigned need to be accounted for at all times.

The issuance of these keys is carefully supervised. The recipient is cleared to receive the key, the issuance is documented, and the key is tracked until it is eventually returned or retired. These keys usually open doors, gates, and padlocks to important parts of the company’s complexes. These keys are likely to be part of large master key systems.

As a master key system ages, the key blanks used in the master key system lose their patent protection. At that time, companies whose business is offering key blanks may start offering the key blanks to hardware stores and public key shops. When this occurs, the value of accounting for keys on a personal level should be evaluated. A decision to “downgrade” the level may be made.

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