Locksmiths Diversify Into Hospital Specialty Hardware

June 2, 2016
This broad category ranges from mechanical lever locks with special trim to electronic access control with full audit capabilities for doors and cabinets, all complying with NFPA and ADA codes.

“Too small to be big, too big to stay small.” How many times have we as business people heard this phrase used with respect to the common growing pains experienced by most relatively young companies? This, in fact, is the state of affairs that many locksmiths find themselves in over the course of time. One tactic that many companies use is to diversify into other areas using products that align in some manner with the company’s core services, such as specialty hardware for hospitals.

By definition, “Diversification is a corporate strategy to enter into a new market or industry which the business is not currently in…” (http://bit.ly/26auIbL).

In this article we’ll take a look at how locksmiths, like you, can take advantage of this business-building tactic so they can expand their offerings and thus the number of money-making opportunities that come their way. Besides additional business opportunities, diversification also generates more cash flow, something that everyone in business needs in order to maintain steady growth. And, by providing additional high-tech services, your local community will see you as an authority and leader in your field. Thus, diversification can be looked on as a means of gaining additional credibility as a company.

One area in which to expand is “Specialized Hardware” for hospitals. Many of the same specialized hardware products also are used in nursing homes, assisted care centers, group homes, and other healthcare-related settings.

Besides high-tech locking systems, this includes special mechanical lever locks with special trim designed for the disabled; safes and lockboxes, such as key system organizers, money vaults, record safes, and spent-needle depositories; mechanical pin locks; HIPPA-compliant mechanical and electronic wall, floor, and file cabinet locks; mechanical key and electronic lockers; automatic door opening control systems and accessories; antimicrobial lock trim, and more.

In this article we’ll discuss some of the considerations that surround diversification, especially as it applies to electronic access control. We’ll give special attention to the installation of egress motion detectors, manual door release activators, and electrified locking hardware.

Considering the recent emergence of fully electronic PIN and proximity locks onto the market, it seems appropriate that we address the subject of fire and ADA compliance as well. This is important because if there’s a single reason why some locksmiths decide not to address this side of specialized hospital hardware, it’s because of this.

How to Diversify Painlessly

There are three basic reasons why locksmiths are often compelled to expand their offerings:

  1. The need for more revenue
  2. Market forces at the local level
  3. Out of necessity because of client requests

After all, if a customer cannot persuade his regular locksmith to install electronic locks, he’ll find one who will.

“Several years ago we found ourselves in a situation where we were routinely asked to install electronic access control by our current as well as new customers,” says Steve Norch, owner of Bierly-Litman Lock & Door, located in Canton, Ohio. “Most of the calls we get involve the need for added safety through better information as to who is doing what, where they’re entering, and what they’re doing.”

Before tackling the hardware side of the issue, however, let’s take a few moments to discuss some of the issues surrounding the adoption of electronic-based specialized hardware. First and foremost, be sure you can do the work before you begin to offer sophisticated access control, video surveillance, and other high-tech specialized electronic systems.

There are three basic ways to do this. They are:

  1. Hire a technician who knows how to do it.
  2. Become factory trained or send one of your locksmiths to one or more factory schools.
  3. Partner with a local security company to assist you in doing the work.

“Obviously access control has been around forever and for us our biggest difficulty was the technology. We started out working with electricians, which worked well at the time for us. But now, most of the work we do in access control and electronic locks is performed by our own locksmiths. One of the reasons why this is now possible is the fact that most of the special electronic locking hardware we use employs wireless network technology, such as WiFi,” says Norch.

As Norch says, the fastest way to enter the electronic specialty hardware market is to partner with electricians as well as regular security companies. If you take this approach, have one of your locksmiths shadow your subcontractor(s) so they can pick up as much technology as possible. On the other hand, if you get a fairly large number of phone calls concerning electronic specialty hardware, it might be prudent to hire someone who’s been there and done that. Of course, it’s even better if that person has worked in the locksmith business, too.

Assuring Rapid Egress

Almost everywhere you turn in a hospital, you will find electrically-locked doors. Methods associated with securing them can vary from a self-contained electronic keypad lock (with or without a proximity reader included), a hefty electromechanical door strike, or an electromagnetic (EM)-type locking device atop the door(s).

The simplest and problem-free method involves the installation of a self-contained electronic keypad lock—with or without a proximity reader included.

“I'd say 90% of our work involves Alarm Lock's network technology (http://www.alarmlock.com/). You put the lock on the door and it looks no different than any other electronic lock. The nice thing is you can retrofit Alarm Lock's older electronic T2 locks, incorporating them into the network,” says Norch. “You can have a PC in Chicago that can add and remove users at facilities all across the world. Even more importantly, there's WiFi almost everywhere you go, which we can use to communicate with our locks.”

The main issue surrounding your work in specialized electronic locking hardware in healthcare is the matter of “egress.” It’s actually quite simple: the occupants must be afforded a simple, easy, and rapid means of egress using a single action on their part. And, in the case of a self-contained electronic lock, whether it is part of a larger system or not, you can program most of them to provide free egress with the single turn of a knob or lever. In the case of a regular access control system where there’s a door strike on the door, egress can be provided using a common lockset that locks from the outside while providing free egress from the inside. Either of these methods will help you avoid fire code issues.

Full Access Control Considerations

A typical access control system uses a door strike or one or two electromagnetic locks atop a single or double set of doors. In the case of the latter, an egress motion detector is mounted above the door(s) and a manual REX (Request to Exit) device, such as a push button, is installed next to the door. Instead of the REX push button, a touch/push bar also can be used, mounting them across the inside of the door(s). In some cases, a card reader or keypad device may be installed on the unprotected side for user access as well as general security.

Electric strikes ‘avoid’ the NFPA code requirements because an occupant can exit a door at any time by simply turning the latch/lever set. Electric strikes are most often used in a system that controls entry through a door but do not control exit (egress) in the other direction” (‘Means of Egress’ Summary of NFPA Code Requirements, Camden Door Controls,).

With all of this in mind, there are four conditions under which fire code--specifically NFPA 101, Life Safety Code--requires that access controlled doors automatically unlock. In summary, they are:

  1. Detection of an approaching occupant by a request-to-exit (REX) motion detector
  2. Activation of a manual release device (e.g. push button) located next to the door
  3. Loss of power to either the REX motion detector, electric lock, or the access controller
  4. Upon activation of an on-premises fire alarm system. In the latter case these doors must remain unlocked until the fire alarm is manually reset.

“With this design, it is obvious that requirements for a REX motion sensor and a REX push button mean that there is no restriction for someone exiting the building at any time, as occupants only need to activate one of these devices to unlock the magnetic-lock. But there are applications where it may be important to prevent unauthorized egress (exit) in order to maintain security protection of people and property” (‘Means of Egress’ Summary of NFPA Code Requirements, Camden Door Controls).

In this case, national fire alarm code allows for a 15- to 30-second delay before release. In other words, from the time egress is requested--either through a manual, mechanical REX button, a push bar on a door, or automatically via a REX motion detector--the occupant must wait for a given period of time before the system allows him to exit the facility. In most jurisdictions you can add a 15-second delay on egress without asking for approval. However, when implementing a 30-second delay, you’ll have to obtain written approval by the AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction). An AHJ can be an insurance company representative or an inspector for a city building department.

Placement of Access Devices and Other Tips

Other important aspects of fire code are the various issues related to placement, such as mounting height and distance from an exit door. In this case it’s not only NFPA fire code, but also ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) that we need to be aware of. Because of the efforts of the various code committees within NFPA, both code sets pretty much agree with one another across the board. Thus, when you follow NFPA 101, 2010 and 2013 editions, you’ll be assured of compliance with ADA requirements. Some states, such as Ohio, also may have their own set of public codes, so always inquire of the AHJ what code sets they operate from.

EM locks are fairly straightforward in that they mount atop the door on the upper edge opposite the hinge. When dealing with double doors, you must include both doors in the lock/unlock action for egress purposes. In this regard, you can install two separate EM locks or a single EM lock at the middle of both doors using a split-bolt arrangement. This means that the holding power per door is approximately 50 percent of the total rating of the EM lock.

For example, a model M62 by Securitron has a total holding power of 1200 pounds. When using it on two doors using a split-bolt armature, the approximate holding power per door is 600 pounds. The manufacturer suggests that you use 1,200 pounds per door for perimeter openings and 600 pounds for inside openings.

The manual REX button should be mounted from 40 to 48 inches above floor level and within 5 feet of the door opening. A manual pushbutton or push bar REX device also must be capable of physically disconnecting power to the EM lock(s) as well as any door strike that fails in fail-secure mode. This usually means that the positive side of the power cable feeding the lock(s) must run through the NC (Normally Closed) side of the REX device. A second set of contacts in the same REX unit can be connected to the REX input of an access controller so it will maintain the unlocked status of the door(s) for a specific period of time—usually 10 to 30 seconds. In the event that the controller is not working, this arrangement allows the occupant to exit by merely pressing and holding the REX button/push-bar as it then will remove power to the door lock(s).

Where there’s a fire alarm system in the building, the access control EM locks must be connected with it so when there’s an alarm, the egress doors will automatically unlock. This means that you will have to work with the fire alarm company of record in order to make a code-compliant connection with their fire alarm system. In most cases a fire alarm technician will provide a relay for this purpose, often times at the door controller if you ask him to do so.

If it’s up to you to do the interface between relay and door locks, use the NC relay contacts to run power to the locks so the connection and the cabling is self supervised. This way, if something should happen to the relay or the cable between the relay and doors, the lock(s) will go to fail-safe mode. The fire alarm company is usually responsible for supervising the connection between the relay and the fire alarm control panel.

Note that when the relay is in the same room as the fire alarm control panel, no special arrangement for supervision is necessary. In addition, no additional precautions are required for supervision when the cable between the relay and the fire alarm control panel are contained in conduit within a distance of 20 feet. Be aware that most states require all work on fire alarm systems be performed by technicians who are licensed to do so.

Specialized Hardware For Hospitals

The following is a brief listing of several types of specialized hardware for hospitals and other kinds of healthcare applications. Some of these are electronic high-tech devices while others are conventional mechanical by nature. Web links are provided where possible for more information.

Enterprise Software by E-Plex- E-Plex Enterprise Software manages up to 3,000 users per lock with an unlimited number of user slots in software. In terms of audit trail capacity, the E-Plex software will handle up to 30,000 audit events per lock including emergency mechanical override situations. Per lock, the E-Plex will handle 16 access schedules with a database capable of an unlimited number of entries, including 32 holidays per lock. For more information, go to: http://bit.ly/24d7YpC.

CO-200-993M-KP-RHO by Schlage - The CO-200-993M-KP-RHO computer/keypad managed mortise lock by Schlage offers Grade 1 protection in hospital settings. It employs a surface vertical rod for greater strength as an exit device. The lock will accommodate 500 users, 2,000 users with an add-on software with a PIN code character count of three to six digits. The CO-200-993M-KP-RHO also features an audit trail capacity of 2,000 time/date-stamped audit events. For more information, go to: http://bit.ly/1SFhZK4.

HES 9700 Series Electric Strike - The new 9700 Series is an addition to the popular surface-mounted 9500 and 9600 Series. The new strike combines both windstorm and fire-ratings into one solution and is designed to accommodate the Corbin Russwin SecureBoltTM and Yale SquareBoltTM exit devices. The HES 9700 is the perfect complement to these heavy-duty exit device solutions that are ideal for frequent use applications such as Hospitals and other healthcare applications. For more information, go to: http://bit.ly/1ruNFX4.

HP3000 Push/Pull Paddle Trim - Corbin Russwin HP3000 (tubular lock) push/pull paddle trim provides an aesthetically pleasing alternative to products with standard push/pull trim. Its heavy-duty design and Grade 1 strength help it to withstand abuse from rigorous environments. Multiple mounting orientations, hands free operation and a sleek, aesthetic form, make the push/pull paddle trim ideal for use in hospitals and other kinds of healthcare facilities. For additional information, go to: http://bit.ly/1WlQG71.

Lockey USA 2835 Lever Handle Lock - The 2835 lever handle lock with passage function is made by Lockey USA is a Grade 1 commercial lock suitable for hospital and other healthcare applications. The lock comes with 2 3/8-inch or 2 3/4-inch latch and will cover a standard 2 1/8-inch hole. The 2835 is essentially a mechanical PIN lock and programming is performed by changing the position of a number of tumblers inside the lock assembly. For more information, go to http://bit.ly/1SFjPuI.

M32/M62 Electromagnetic Locks by Securitron Magnalock – The M32 electromagnetic lock by Securitron has a holding force of 600 lbs. and will accept two voltages (300mA @ 12VDC and 150mA @ 24VDC). Recommended for applications where physical assault on the door is not expected, like access controlled interior rooms and secure areas within buildings. The M62, also made by Securitron, is rated at 1,200 pounds of holding force and also will accommodate dual voltages (250mA at 12VDC; 150mA at 24VDC). The operating temperature of both models is -40 to +140F [-40 to +60C]. For more information on the M32, go to: http://bit.ly/231kbLA, and for additional information on the M62, go to: http://bit.ly/1YQryEv..

PDL3500 by Alarm Lock - The model PDL3500 series mortise lock with built in HID prox reader by Alarm Lock, a Napco company, offer s a capacity of 2,000 users with a PIN character potential of three to six characters. With four different user/access levels (master, manager, supervisor, and basic user), the PDL3500 includes a proximity card reader which can be used with or without the keypad portion of the lock. The PDL3500 also includes wireless network connectivity over standard WiFi (802.11). For more information, go to: http://bit.ly/26m6cEw.

QEL (Quiet Electric Latch) by Von Duprin - Quiet electric latch retraction (QEL) provides electronic control of an exit device for environments where limited operational noise is desired. The QEL option is Von Duprin’s solution of choice for hospitals, libraries, museums and theaters where ambient noise can be disruptive. It is available on all Von Duprin 98/99, 94/95 and 33A/35A series exit devices. Von Duprin is an Allegion company. For more information, go to: http://bit.ly/1pvas37.