Black Box Security Solutions

In the security industry, we use the term “Black Box” to describe a specialized device which performs a unique or custom process. You would resort to a black box when no one manufactures what you need for a project.

Generally using a black box is not first choice because it is not a readily available off the shelf-type product, so it is probably costly in the first place, and if it fails, you will have issues repairing/replacing it.

Back in the day, every project was a black box, because besides the military (who used lots of black boxes, no one was manufacturing much access control equipment. Typically if you wanted a solution, you had to build your own.

System integrators will speak about the custom software they had to write in order to achieve some feature for a client. Integrators used to call the factory with exotic requirements for a special client. We used to tell our clients that if we didn’t have a particular feature available, it was because it was a bad idea, and they didn’t want to do it. Of course if they wanted something clever and we thought if we designed it we could catalog it and possibly sell more in the future, I would invest the time and engineer one for that client and then it would show up in the next catalog as a new option. Even now, you will still find the need to combine components in order to achieve a specific functionality.

Where door control and annunciation are concerned, building blocks can be combined to achieve some dramatic results. The design objectives are to economically build a reliable solution which the end-user will be able to easily operate and understand. If they can’t understand it, they won’t even use it. People do not like devices which intimidate them or make them feel inept.

I find that often pre-manufactured equipment will offer too many features, consequently forcing the price up. These are things the customer doesn’t want, and these gizmos are hard for the end-user to understand on top of everything else.    

Building black boxes requires components to put in it. I’ve put together a collection of some I’ve used on recent projects and I will explain why I like them and how they work.

STI-USA makes the polycarbonate covers which you see everywhere protecting fire pull stations from little hands connected to childish minds. They discourage school children and vandals from setting off false alarms.

For a recent nursing home project which I described briefly in the December issue, the Fire Marshal insisted that there be emergency buttons next to each locked exit door. The nursing home director felt certain that patients might inadvertently bump into or otherwise trigger these buttons unless they were protected. So we specified The STI-USA UB-1 pushbutton along with their #6500 Mini Stopper® without Horn Flush Mount polycarbonate cover.

STI’s Universal Button UB-1 offers an astounding 240 different combinations for the price of a standard one-configuration button. The faceplate is constructed of cast aluminum, allowing it to take tough knocks in stride, and is slightly oversized to cover old plate installation marks. Button package includes: faceplate, three illuminated push buttons, four interchangeable button messages and ten interchangeable activation messages.

I explained the possible combinations to my customer and knew it would take numerous meetings and emails before the several layers of managers involved would be able to decide on the correct colors and wording.

The UB-1 has a heavy duty DPDT switch and two separate LEDS, so it offered some options for how I could design it into the system.  I decided one LED would serve as a  locator (help the nurses find it in an emergency situation) and power on indicator, and the LED in the button would signal an alarm.

UB-1 features include:

  • Momentary push button.
  • 240 different combinations, one convenient package.
  • Faceplate constructed of cast aluminum.
  • Single gang plate slightly oversized to cover old plate installation marks.
  • Standard or illuminated 24 volt white LED button.
  • Two sets of Form "C" contacts.
  • Three different lens covers - red, green or blue.
  • Five inserts for the button itself - EXIT, PUSH, PUSH TO EXIT, handicap symbol or blank.
  • Ten color coded message inserts in green, blue, yellow or white.
  • Plate messages inscribed with EXIT, EMERGENCY or blanks (allowing for custom labels).
  • UL Listed to U.S. and Canadian safety standards.

It comes with a lifetime guarantee against breakage of polycarbonate in normal use (one year on electromechanical & electronic components

The versatile STI-6500protective cover helps prevent theft and vandalism without restricting access to protected device. The strong, durable construction takes the toughest knocks while it guards against accidental or intentional physical damage. Local authorities having jurisdiction (LAHJs) have been accepting them for about 30 years so they’re a good bet to use. 

STI-6500 consists of a clear, super tough polycarbonate cover and frame. This Mini Stopper polycarbonate protective cover is backed by a lifetime guarantee against breakage in normal use.

STI-6500 features include:

  • Protects against vandalism and accidental damage
  • Fast and easy installation
  • Cover is molded from thick polycarbonate material
  • Cover is UV-stabilized
  • STI-6500 is for flush mount (Surface - STI-6505).
  • Can be used over volume or lighting controls
  • UL Listed to U.S. and Canadian safety standards
  • MEA Approved
  • CSFM obtain local permission (AHJ)
  • Typical working properties of polycarbonate are -40° to 250°F (-40° to 121°C).
  • Lifetime guarantee against breakage of polycarbonate in normal use.
  • ADA Compliant

For more information, visit

We were using wiremold and surface mounting the pushbutton so we also specified  the STI 6531 2" Conduit Spacer for Mini Stopper®  This clear riser for use with Mini Stopper to provide additional 2" of depth for surface mounted pull stations or push buttons. It has conduit knock-outs for mounting around exposed conduit.

To help avoid confusion to the end-user, I will use a different type of switch to control different functions within a system - One switch for triggering an alarm, another for resetting the alarm, and in the case of my nursing home, another type for REX purposes.

Essex PEB Series Piezoelectric Access Switches

Essex PEB Series Piezoelectric Access Switches are illuminated, stainless steel, timed electronic switches designed to operate in various high use, harsh and vandal prone environments. I am able to perform a modification to them so that I can externally control the large Red and Green LED indicator that is part of the pushbutton.

Piezoelectric Switch technology and field selectable options include adjustable timed output and illumination feedback status.

Features include:

  • Cutting Edge Switch Technology
  • Essex proprietary Piezoelectric Billion Cycle
  • Switch Technology™
  • Weather Resistant Design
  • Circuit assembly encapsulation
  • Vandal Resistant Construction
  • Stainless Steel Faceplate and Button Cap
  • Custom Graphics Available
  • Engraved in Red or Laser Marked in Black
  • Field Selectable Illumination
  • Switch Activated or Externally Controlled
  • Jumper Selectable: Red, Green or No Illumination for standby or active status

Mounting Method:

  • Single gang: Mounts directly to a single

gang switchbox or optional mounting

back box (BAK BOX–SGS).

  • Narrow: Mullion mount.

This product comes with a limited lifetime warranty against defects in materials and workmanship. For more information, visit


  • Power Requirements: 12 to 24VDC*
  • Outputs: One N/O, One N/C 2A 30VDC Resistive, ½A 125VAC
  • Jumper Selectable Relay (Normally ON or OFF) for fail safe or fail secure operation
  • Relay Life Expectancy: 500,000 @ 1A 30VDC
  • Adjustable Output Time: 1 to 40 seconds
  • Current Draw: MIN<10 mA;  MAX< 120mA
  • Switch Operating Environment: - 40°F to + 160°F (- 40°C to + 70°C)
  • Dimensions are:

    Single Gang: 4.5” H X 2 ¾” W X 1 1/4” D, weight 7.2 oz. (204 gm)

    Narrow  (Mullion):4.5” H X 1 ¾” W X 1 ¼” D, weight 5.1 oz. (145 gm)

    Essex SKE-34

    The Essex SKE-34 is a heavy duty, self contained Access Control Keypad with features suitable for even the most harsh industrial access control applications.

    Features include:

    • 2A relay on board
    • 5VDC or 12 to 24VDC
    • Stainless Steel construction 
    • proprietary Piezoelectric Billion Cycle Switch Technology™
    • Limited lifetime warranty 
    • 3 Programmable Outputs
    • Up to 500 User Codes
    • Laser Marked Keypad Graphics
    • Weatherproof -40°C to +70°C, 100 percent Relative Humidity

    The SKE 34 is Programmed through the keypad, and features 502 Codes (1 Master, 500 User and 1 Temporary)

    Three programmable outputs include 1 set of Form C (SPDT) rated at 2A at 24V max and 2 Open Collector 1/4A max to ground outputs). With an open collector output, the output connected to the negative coil terminal of the slave relay, the positive terminal to continuous positive voltage, and the output from the keypad goes to ground when the appropriate code is connected energizing the relay, and switching the device to which it is connected.

    Therefore three separate devices or functions can be controlled form a single SKE-34.   

    ALTRONIX 6062

    This multi-Purpose Timer Module can control operations such as timed relay activations, or can be used to provide a flasher output for indicators and alarms. The works on 12 or 24V and draws a maximum of 40 mA.

    Some optional functions include: One Shot, Delayed Release, Delayed Operate, Delayed Pulse and Pulser/Flasher. A new feature provides momentary relay activation at the end of a desired timing cycle. This feature eliminates the need for having to use two timers to achieve this function.

    Another new feature will cancel (interrupt) timing cycle and reset timer if desired. This is useful for timed door access which relocks when the door recluses.

    It is easy to set up and has an LED indicator to help setup and confirmation of proper operation.

    Features/Specifications include:

    • 12VDC or 24VDC selectable operation.

    • Quick and extremely accurate time range adjustment
    from 1 sec. to 60 min.

    • LED indicates relay is energized.

    • Form "C" relay contacts are 8 AMP at 120VAC/28VDC.

    • Current Draw: Stand-by 3mA, Relay Energized 40mA.

    • Triggers via positive DC (+) voltage, dry contact closure, or removal of contact closure.

    • Selectable relay activation at the start or end of the timing cycle.

    • One second momentary relay activation at the end of the timing cycle(eliminates the need to use two (2) timers for this function).

    • Built-in reset feature which cancels timing cycle.

    • Repeat (pulser/flasher) mode.

    • Snap Trac compatible (order Altronix Model ST3

    • DIN Rail Mount version available (order Altronix model# DTMR1).

    • Lifetime Warranty.

    • Board Dimensions (approximate): 2.5”W x 3”L x 0.75”H


    Altronix makes many different relays. This model runs at 24V, draws low 40mA current, has a handy LED to indicate when it is actuated, and has 5 Amp rated contacts.

    Features/Specifications include:

    • 24VDC operation.

    • Coil draws 40mA.

    • 5 amp/120VAC/28VDC DPDT contacts.
    • Snap track mountable (Altronix model # ST1).

    • Lifetime Warranty.

    Relay Dimensions (approximate): 2”W x 2.75”L x 1”H

    For more information, visit

    SECURITRON DT-7 Prime Time Digital Timer

    The Securitron DT-7 digital timer is used to turn electric locks or other security systems on and off at programmed times.

    Features and Benefits include:

    • 7-day digital timer
    • 10 Amp DPDT relay can be operated in toggle or pulse mode programmed on/off times set daily (6 on, 6 off), on selected days, or on blocks of days
    • "First Man In" feature delays operation until an external switch changes state and automates holiday programming in many applications
    • 12 or 24VAC or VDC
    • AA battery provides backup to the display module program memory

    The DT-7’s TOGGLE MODE is programmed to turn electrical devices on or off at selectable times over a week period. The Prime Time accomplishes this by energizing or deenergizing a 10 Amp DPDT relay. The terminal strip is supplied with 6 terminals marked "C", "NC", and "NO" for each pole. Devices to be controlled by the DT-7 should be connected to these terminals which are isolated (dry) relay contacts.

    Many applications for this product relate to the scheduled automatic locking and unlocking of a perimeter door. The customer might have a keypad or card reader entry system on the door which they use to control entry into the building ‘after hours’, but they wish the door to unlock for normal daily operations and do not want the door locked during normal business hours.

    However, this approach might present problem if for some reason (inclement weather, for example) it is not desirable to unlock the building resulting in an unprotected facility.

    The first man in feature prevents this. The schedule is programmed, and the card reader or keypad is set up so that whenever a valid credential is presented, a separate set of dry contacts actuate.

    If the entry system supported multiple outputs, then the system could be refined so that only selected credentials or codes activate this output. The dry output is connected to the first man in terminals on the prime time. The DT-7 runs the schedule, but the main output will not trigger until the first time the first man in input is activated within that time zone.

    For example, the timer is set to unlock at 8 a.m. on Monday, but it snows. No one shows up, so the building remains secure. Or maybe a tenant shows up, but that user does not trigger the specific output assigned to the first man in, so even though that individual is able to get into the building, the door relocks and security is preserved.

    For more information, visit


    The PZ-1 is a sounder mounted on a stainless single gang plate which is used as a remote alarm sounder for exit delay or remote door prop. The sounder has two inputs, steady and pulsing, and produces a loud strident tone. It operates on 24VDC.

    If two separate types of alarm are required, the steady tone can be assigned to one alarm, and the pulsing to another. You can remove the piezo from the plate and custom mount it.

    Features and Benefits include:

    • Remote annunciator
    • Powerful Piezo sounder - 86db
    • Stainless Steel Single Gang Plate: 4.5" x 2.75" [114mm x 70mm]


    Securitron’s Zone Light Panel (ZLP-1; ZLP-2; ZLP-4) comes with pairs of LEDs (red and green) and is ideal for applications where high visibility indicators are desired.

    Like most SECURITRON products these LED’s operate on 24VDC or 12 VDC field configurable. The LEDs can be easily removed from the switch plate and mounted as required.

    The LEDs produce a very visible signal which can be easily seen at a distance during daylight. We used them indoors in areas with windows letting in sunlight, and the LEDs could be seen without a problem from the other end of the building.

    Compared to discrete LEDs available from LED specialty sources, these LEDs are more cost effective and versatile.

    Securitron EEB-2

    The EEB-2 exit button is supplied with a variety of colored lenses, and an integral 30-second delay timer. Securitron offers an optional LED kit for the EEB-2 which I prefer to use as an enhanced safety feature.

    When the EEB-2 is used in conjunction with the Securitron XMS REX motion sensor, it becomes an approved exit control solution, by providing a redundant means of egress:

    • If power fails to the EEB, the XMS or the electromagnetic lock
    • If the area fills with smoke obstructing the motion sensor, (of if the motion sensor fails for any other reason) the button still will release the door and keep it released for 30 seconds.
    • Provides single motion egress.
    • The added illumination kit directs attention to the switch, and the large word EXIT does not require previous knowledge.

    On doors where the LAHJ does not require a push bar, but still demands free egress, these components are designed satisfy that requirement. However do not assume anything, ask the LAHJ before you install anything, and ask him how far and how high above the finished floor he would like the REX button to be mounted.

    Kaba E-Plex

    KABA has a full line of standalone access and keypad access controls and software; from the legendary Simplex mechanical all the way up to their Department of Homeland Security Complaint solution.

    E-Plex products offer a highly robust locksmith oriented chassis upon which a high technology security director oriented solution is integrated. This device provides a simple-to-install and program access solution which can be configured for several different functions and can be used on fire-rated doors.

    We found it extremely helpful to be able to reprogram the E-Plex from PIN entry to passage mode right from the keypad to relax the security on a door that had been previously considered a security barrier, but redefined by the LAHJ as a life safety concern. One less problem on the Punch list, and one less expense for the client.

    The E-Plex uses a servo (motor to control its operation. When a command is entered into the keypad, (for example to go to Entry Function) a short electrical pulse is sent to the servo motor, engaging the lever so actuating the lever will unlock the door. Until the next command is entered, no further power is consumed which explains why these locks can run without battery reloads for such extended periods of time.

    E-PLEX Features include:

    • Electronic pushbutton lock eliminates problems and costs associated with issuing, controlling and collecting keys, and cards
    • 100 access codes per door (upgrade to 300 via software); over 100 million possible code combinations (E-Plex 5000)
    • The most recent 9,000 lock events are recorded in memory including use of the mechanical key override. Software is required to view audit events.
    • Locks are programmed via keypad or with optional Microsoft Excel™ based software—simplifies management of doors and users as facility’s number of users and access points grow
    • Non-handed, preassembled for left hand door installations— easily changed in the field
    • Key Override: Key-in-lever cylinders, small format interchangeable cores, large format removable cores
    • Customization Locks are easily customized on site via keypad to work as various BHMA lock functions eliminating the requirement to stock multiple locks to meet different applications.
    • Built-in options include: entry, storeroom, privacy, and residence lock, (thumbturn required for privacy and residence functions)

    Three Operation Modes -  PIN access, Lockout and Passage – were available on this model. • Passage can be toggled on/off or can be preprogrammedto relock after a certain number of hours (from 1 to 24).

    For more information, visit