The Mechanical Override Key

Nov. 7, 2011

Electronic locks were introduced about twenty-five years ago. Installing access control electronics onto an existing cylindrical lock body developed the electronic lock. The first lock bodies were modified to accept a motor that when powered would unlock or lock the locking mechanism. To conserve battery power, a 1/900 horsepower motor was used to control the first commercially available electronic access control cylindrical lock.

I guess since the basis for the electronic lock was a key operated mechanical lock; the first models were introduced with what eventually became the keyed lock override cylinder. Lock failed electronically, insert and operate the key, gain access. No problem.  Over the years, electronic lock manufacturers have different forms of keyed override cylinders. The lock cylinders were necessary in the beginning days, as the electronics had their occasional hiccups and customers had their own anxiety about trusting an electronic lock.

However, a quarter of a century has passed. Capabilities of the electronic locks have expanded beyond the imagination of most people. At the same time, electronics are much more stable, especially with battery override protection. The technology has improved dramatically. And people are significantly more comfortable with electronic products.

Safe manufacturers sell the majority of their safes having electronic locks including biometrics. Think about it, if an electronic safe lock fails, the cost to gain access, replace the electronic lock if necessary and repair the safe if necessary, is probably more expensive than replacing the lock components damaged in order to gain access or replacing the lock itself.

I believe a number of companies’ products became side tracked over the last ten years or so by keeping the key override without at least having the lock recognize when this method of access was used. Additional circuitry and some lines of software would not only have a successful key override operation registered as access granted or denied. If the lock were part of a network, it could notify the server, indicating which door was granted or denied access using a key. If the lock was not networked, access or the attempt could be seen when viewing the audit trail.

Why not get rid of the mechanical key override entirely. It seems a bit strange that the key, once considered the best form of security has for this specific application, become its liability.

Is it time to upgrade your customer’s locks that have key override but no way to know when the key was used to gain access? How secure is your customer’s electronic security? Let us know your thoughts.