Q&A: Karl Kretsch, University of Scranton

Aug. 1, 2007

As access control supervisor/locksmith for the University of Scranton in Scranton , Penn. , Karl Kretsch is responsible for making sure the right university employees have the right access to nearly 7,000 doors in 70 buildings.

Scranton is a nationally recognized Catholic and Jesuit university in Pennsylvania 's Pocono northeast region. The University offers more than 80 undergraduate and graduate programs with a total enrollment of almost 5,000 students.

Kretsch recently sat down with Locksmith Ledger contributor Steve Kaufman to discuss his job. Following are the Ledger's questions and Kretsch's answers.

Karl, thank you for sitting and talking with me here at the University of Scranton . What does your job entail?

The pleasure's all mine. I'm an access control supervisor/locksmith. I'm also the whole door man; it goes beyond the lock quite often here for me.

So you mean the entire opening? How much time can you spend replacing cores, right?

Actually, quite a bit. There are roughly 6-7,000 doors in 70 buildings and 1,000 employees.

What are your everyday responsibilities?

My everyday responsibilities include the care, maintenance and feeding of my 7000 doors and also the control of the vast number of keys and key systems we have here. We have quite a few manufacturers although we are in the process of converting to a more uniform approach with a patented, restricted key section. I'm not there yet so I'm servicing any number of manufacturers like Arrow, Sargent, Corbin/Russwin, Yale and Schlage.

Is this because buildings have been added over the years and people have taken it upon themselves to put different systems in different buildings?

You're typically driven by the specifications of your architect and if you aren't careful to cross your T's and dot your I's, then that's what you get. Or sometimes things are value-engineered and what you wanted may not be what you wind up with. Generally the University is pretty motivated to avoid skimping on security. I also have a pretty open door with the architects, the installers and the carpenters that allow me to have a hand in the things that are security and hardware related.

Let's get back to you and your role here. Were you a locksmith when you got here?

Yes, I've been a locksmith for about 13 years. I started out west in a tiny little lock shop that paid me next to nothing to learn the trade. It was then that I attended my first trade show and realized the vastness of the world of door hardware and how much intelligence it required. I discovered there's a pretty cool balance between hands-on and needing the brain.

I was intrigued by it; that's what got me going. Coming from a contractor-ship where you could go a long way without much intelligence. I found locksmithing to be incredibly dynamic in terms of the future. I also found the people sitting in the Ivory Towers of our industry to be incredibly smart. I was very intrigued at what I found. Today when I have a carpenter working with me here at the university, he or she is often amazed at what's behind the scenes of what I do.

What are we talking about? What's so impressive? From keying cylinders to making sure things work properly?

Sometimes the manufacturer doesn't know what does or doesn't work in every application. When you're supporting five different manufacturers with five different specifications with five different keying systems, it doesn't take long for someone to realize that locksmithing is really a complex craft Whether I'm referring to my books because someone's been nice enough to give me the information or from my knowledge, I don't realize how vast it is until I'm training somebody.

How much of your locksmithing experience which was not institutionally based prepared you for this job?

Yes, quite a bit of it. Of the various locksmithing jobs I had, I did work for a year for a ‘whole package' distributor and in that time I obtained a lot of knowledge about job specification and that was great experience to bring to the university. I didn't enjoy safe work or car work; I enjoy commercial locksmithing whether it was at a paper mill, a strip mall or a school district.

Is it possible to describe a typical day in the life of a university locksmith?

A typical day starts with me seeing what's happening in our work order system; that's the stuff people have requested and has been approved. That can be anything from someone losing the key to a desk lock to a major issue like dormitory vandalism. So first I check on what's immediate.

I'm also the person who's responsible for the direction we're going in terms of locks and hardware. We're building a $30 million student center right now and my job is to prepare for that. Not long before I came to the university, we changed our standard spec to “university will provide cores and cylinders” and that was a big change from the way we did things and it allowed me to have more control.

How would it have been done before that change?

A pretty loose spec would be written and it would slowly tighten as things developed. The first job I got involved in here simply said the hardware must support Best-type core. They satisfied the requirement with some Grade 2 stuff but it certainly wasn't what we needed. I keep an eye on things like that. I'm looking at what goes in when we're having door problems, looking at door manufacturers, door construction.

What about plain old security, especially in light of things that have been in the news lately? How has what happened in Virginia affected the way security is approached here now?

It has had an effect although at this institution I do spend time checking my perimeters and do often go home at night telling myself that the perimeters are secure. I also have a Public Safety staff here 24 hours that can notify me when needed. In the wake of what happened at Virginia Tech, we are looking at what we can do better and we proceed along those lines. One thing I've learned from that is how important it is to have good communication with your students and faculty.

Who directs that communication?

Communication between Public Safety, the locksmith and the students and staff. We may advertise to them that security is as much their responsibility as ours; we try to make it a cooperative effort. The biggest task for me is to get the kids to understand that this is a partnership and I can keep you safe with your help.

That seems like quite a task. How do you go about doing it?

Reminders. I'm very communicative with everyone here. I have a yearly meeting with the office of Residential Life and talk to all the RAs about the fact that these aren't just stupid rules. Often I have to share a horror story or two to get people to buy into the program. It's simply vigilance; getting the RAs to understand that if you see a door propped, just kick it shut.

I don't see that as any different from the average ‘mom and pop' locksmith who needs to remind his customer to use the deadbolt he just installed. Most homeowners will tell you, until crime starts happening, they don't even lock their door. It's just a matter of awareness. Luckily I'm dealing with kids and I enjoy playing this role here. As a locksmith in the past, I didn't always enjoy trying to make my customers smarter a few years ago. Here it's part of my mission.

Doesn't a certain amount of knowledge and wisdom naturally come with living and having more years behind you?

Absolutely! Call it horror stories, call it wisdom, there is a certain amount of expertise develops whether it's from reading trade magazines or just day to day experience. Educating your customers should be the mission of every lock shop whether you're in a small town servicing AAA accounts or sitting in a university managing what happens there. Here that's part of my mission. I'm not wasting time making these kids smarter; that's my goal here.

Let's talk about particular trends or the direction you see things here going in.

Certainly electrification of openings is always being pondered here. It's absolutely prevalent regarding the entrances to our buildings and then in a fewer of the higher security areas. When I say electrification, I'm also referring to monitoring that's becoming more important.

What kind of monitoring? Are you thinking of CCTV, for example?

Yes, everything from having a digital image of what's taking place at a door to monitoring the positions of doors, whether it's seeing if the door is opened or the latch is retracted, for example. This isn't really a recent trend in the industry. The newer trend here involves how we tighten things up at the university.

Before you were hired here at the university, was there a locksmith on staff? Without a locksmith, I don't think whoever is doing the security hardware work would typically have the same interest that you do in making things right. What do you think?

I did not replace a locksmith; I was the first in the position of Access Control Supervisor. Before that it was handled by a group including carpenters and maintenance technicians and some things were contracted out.

So the focus on what you do must have changed drastically upon your arrival. There are still many institutions out there that have facilities people and carpenters handling the work. Could you imagine where this place would be without you and/or the role you fill here?

We are certainly better off. The impact of having a locksmith may not always be felt because you're not going to feel a thing if you have a good locksmith. I think that even more important is having someone who enjoys doing it because enjoying what you're doing tends to give you the fortitude to move on during the less than pleasant days. Also, there's an awful lot to know.

Not only do you need to know locks, but you also need to know your clients. Everyone's needs aren't the same as well as their style of communicating. As much as I'm focused on what I'm doing here, people at institutions like this one are spending their time getting enlightened. I hear all the time from people who've learned something at a trade show, for example, and want to discuss it with me. It can come from Public Safety people who attend two or three conventions each year looking at the new stuff. My athletic director has even approached me with questions that arose at one of his conventions.

Lastly, I love that everything I do is within the same 70 buildings for the rest of my career.

What would you like to see from the locksmith community in general regarding educations and support? Do you get what you need typically?

I feel like I do. I'm no longer a member of any association. I have attended a couple of meetings with the ILA, but am not active.

How do you view the role of the ILA in terms of what you do?

At some level the associations are essential but on a very real level the nature of associations requires a good, active membership. The larger associations with paid employees and some expectation of quality will be better than the all volunteer ones. They're all vital.

Did you get something out of your involvement with associations? To what do you attribute your lack of participation currently?

It has everything to do with how I choose to spend my personal time. I wasn't driven away by anything in particular. I now spend time with my son's baseball league and things my daughter is involved with. As much as I can't survive in a vacuum here, the manufacturers and wholesale reps make themselves available to me here and I can find out what's going on any time I want. I did grow tired of hearing from manufacturers that they'll give me some attention when the place I worked for was big enough. Here we have the attention of the manufacturers and that helps.

What benefit do you see to eventually having the university under one key system?

Actually, I don't see that to be beneficial to security at all. It may be convenient, but convenience always runs contrary to security. When I'm done, I hope to have it under four key systems. I'm not interested in having one key that opens every door on my campus. Sometimes you find out after becoming involved in a system that there are things about it you don't like and I don't want that to happen after I've put it into 40 buildings.

How much do spending and budgets come into play?

I'm not driven by the low bid, but of course I do what makes sense financially for the university. Like many other institutions we have a cycle to work with and we have our fat times and our lean times. I must say that the university has been very good about doing what we need and not compromising security for the sake of saving money.

What would you say to locksmiths out there who have thought about working in an institution? Would you recommend it?

Yes I would. I would suggest first getting one of the certifications like one from ALOA or the ILA because during the interview process, you're being judged by people who aren't locksmiths and the certification serves as a quick barometer to help determine whether you're qualified or not. I would also urge them to walk into the interview looking professional because once again you'll be sitting in an office with a bunch of suit and ties and go through more than one interview in addition to having a background check done. I would venture to say that I was hired here because I shaved and wore a nice suit. It's also important to demonstrate that you're able to deal with the different types of people you'll have to while in that position; everyone from presidents of some pretty lofty institutions within the university to the cleaning people and the students.

Keep in mind that in these times of outsourcing and downsizing I don't see a time when we'll be told that teachers are cheaper in Mexico and we're moving the university. Between that and the increased need for qualified security professionals, the job is a pretty stable one.