Keys and locks are one of the most reliable and effective physical safeguards available in today’s security marketplace. They offer both prevention and protection, are easy to install and maintain, and have a minimal investment cost. Advances in key/lock design and technology have helped to reduce security issues such as key duplication, key bumping and lock picking.
Reducing Exposure to Risk
As good as these new high tech keys and locks are however, they should never be considered as a stand-alone security solution. To ensure the integrity of a key/lock system and reduce exposure to risk, they should be matched with a purpose-built key control and management system for centralized control and management. When building key systems are paired with a key management system, keys are safely secured in the tamper-proof cabinet and the system automatically records the access history of each key, including user, date and time of checkout/return. This accountability significantly decreases the potential for lost or mismanaged keys and uncontrolled access.
Lost or mismanaged keys can cause a number of vulnerabilities that can weaken the overall safety and security of the premises, its occupants and assets. For example, unmanaged keys can be indiscriminately loaned among personnel and eventually lost or stolen, resulting in the need for expensive re-keying of locks to ensure building security. Even well-intentioned policies and procedures regarding key access and return tend to be ineffective because there is no reliable way to monitor the activity or enforce the policies. And without an automated key control and management system in place, management has no confirmed way of knowing which keys are out, who has or had keys and which keys they have or had much less when keys will be returned. Even the best key/lock design and technology in the world can’t do its job under these circumstances.
Adding a Key Management System
Implementing a key control and management system to supplement a key/lock system is a straightforward process that involves a few basic steps:
- Take inventory of the facility to identify all access points and installed locks;
- Ascertain the operational needs of employees as well as of others who may need access to the facility (e.g., service repair or cleaning crew); and
- Establish a policy with easy to follow procedures for effective key control and management.
Once this is completed, a system can be configured with modular components that meet the required needs. Choices for modules may include key storage modules, lockers, credit card modules or simply blank modules, to be filled at a later time. The combination of modules is entirely up to the user, offering the ability to customize and also change the system to meet specific needs.
Access to the key cabinets can also be customized, with optional interfaces including biometric fingerprint readers and magnetic or proximity card readers. Systems that integrate card readers for access can often utilize the access control cards that are already in use throughout the organization, making the system implementation easier and more convenient. Use of a common access control card permits changes to an individual’s access authorization to be made instantly by program administrators – and, because of the data base commonality, changes need only be made once thereby reducing the potential for error.
Convenience Promotes Usability
Systems that are easier to use have shown to be better accepted and implemented more seamlessly. As an example, large touchscreens on the front panel and interfaces with step-by-step instructions make it convenient for both regular and occasional users to access requested keys. Keys available for access can be called up on the touchscreen along with information about the location of a specified key. Messages can be created that will pop up when a particular key is requested such as a message reminder that sterile suits must be worn when entering a research lab. From an operational standpoint, management can quickly query what keys have not been returned and when the key will become overdue. And if a key is not returned to the key cabinet as scheduled, an alert is sent via email or SMS text to appropriate personnel so that immediate action may be taken.
Added features that help make a system easier and more efficient for everyone to use may include illuminated key slots to locate keys and random return capability (i.e. return to any key slot in the cabinet or in the system). As an added safety measure, alarms can be triggered for certain predetermined circumstances such as the use of force to gain access or remove a key, invalid user codes, a door left open for more than 10 seconds after use, power failure, a key missing or not returned on time or a key returned by the wrong user.
Locks and keys remain one of the most common methods used to control access and are an important component of a security program. Key management systems are an affordable and convenient way to add accountability to the process and ultimately Increase the level of security a key and lock offers.