A Sound Strategy
Having the ability to integrate key control with access control systems enables organizations to address health issues, robust COVID-19 contact tracing
- By Tim Purpura
- Apr 01, 2021
No matter the security criticality of your facility or
the sophistication of your security system, simple
key control is a foundational process of physical
key management that helps control access to crucial
assets, people, information and spaces.
The lack of proper key control can put an organization’s tangible
and data assets at risk, and as businesses struggle to cope
with a new paradigm of security and safety protocols in an age of
COVID-19, poor key management has even broader consequences.
Not only can lost keys or tokens clog workfiows and disrupt
productivity, unaccounted-for keys may now impact the health of
your workforce, clients, and vendors if your organization is not
able to track the fiow of ingress and egress of personnel. Security
personnel and administrators must understand that an organization’s
physical security firewall starts with locks and keys, and the
key system is the first line of defense.
DESIGNING A SYSTEM THAT WORKS
Key systems must be properly designed and managed in order
to provide the necessary controls and a solid foundation to
an overall security program. In a comprehensive whitepaper released
by Anixter, a technology distributor based in Glenview,
IL, it states that “a well-designed key system can do more than
just secure doors. It can control traffic, protect people and assets,
enforce compliances and manage access rights.”
As the pandemic continues to rage in the United States, this
premise is even more important.
The whitepaper adds that “the process for creating a well-designed
key system starts with identifying all the doors that require
a key. These could include doors that also have electronic access
control. This would typically be followed by identifying the security
level for each opening. In this situation, consider the risk
or liability associated with each opening and the assets, personnel, information, and/ or certifications or compliance that would
be required of any person who would need access to the space
behind each door and then assign the appropriate key-locking
In the new world of COVID-19, a security department’s inability
to track and control its facility’s keys can prove deadly. To
that point, all business operations run on a core set of principles,
one of which is maintaining a duty of care for employees and
staff. Keeping a business safe is good business. If clients and customers
don’t feel safe, the business will suffer.
That fact is being played out on a daily basis across the country
as many organizations struggle to reopen and regain the
confidence of not only customers but of their staff as well. The
challenges of reopening with limited occupancy, social distancing,
ensuring that sick employees remain home, and the increased
burden of constant facility maintenance has only strengthened
the need for reliable contact tracing.
HOW CONTACT TRACING WORKS
As businesses and organizations continue to struggle with reopening,
most health experts have agreed that a coordinated and
strategic plan for COVID-19 contact tracing is the best method
of safely opening and minimizing another devastating pandemic
Crystal Watson, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center
for Health Security, states that contact tracing “is the best tool
we have to manage this in an ongoing way and allow our economy
to open up again,” and she estimates that the United States will
need at least 100,000 workers trained in contact tracing across the
nation, at a bare minimum, to keep COVID-19 at a manageable
level. There are currently around 30,000 contact tracers.
Contact tracing is not a mysterious science but simply a matter
of dogged detective work that is used to break the chains of
transmission and help manage the spread of the epidemic, while
preventing future surges. The use of contact tracing is one of
the oldest public health tactics, dating back centuries, said Lori
Tremmel Freeman, CEO for the National Association of County
and City Health Officials.
“It means that as soon as you know of a person who may have
a virus or have tested presumptive positive, you work immediately
to first isolate that person so they do not spread it further,” Freeman
said. “You keep them away from other people, and then you
work with that person directly to understand who they have come
in contact with.”
According to the Association of State and Territorial Health
Officials, there are four steps involved in contact tracing for the
• Initial notification of the person under investigation (PUI).
Contact tracing should be initiated as soon as possible 1 after a
PUI is identified.
• Interview PUI. Interviews should include a discussion about
confidentiality and verification of demographics, such as age,
sex, race). Walk through the entire infectious period hour-byhour
and ask the PUI to share who they were in contact with
during that time. Provide the PUI with guidelines on isolation to
prevent spreading COVID-19 to others.
• Locate and notify contacts who may have been exposed to
COVID-19. Inform them of their contact status and what
that means. Assess for the presence of symptoms and provide
contacts with guidelines 3 on quarantine to prevent potential
spread of infection.
• Monitor contacts. Follow up with contacts to make sure they
are following the quarantine instructions, and to track the development
of any potential 4 COVID-19 symptoms.
Experts say that contact tracing hasn’t been a widely implemented
strategy among the general public in COVID-19 response
because the pandemic surged quickly and there were not enough
tests available to figure out exactly who carried the virus. In a security
context, administrators grapple with the challenge of preventing
the spread of the coronavirus in their own facilities. Once
a case has been identified, security and HR managers attempt
to trace the path of infected persons to identify what fioors they
visited internally and who they may have encountered, hoping
that once all the suspects have been contacted, they will be sent
to home quarantine.
A KEY CONTROL STRATEGY IS CRUCIAL
A comprehensive key inventory and tracking system is an essential
element of any strategic plan to combat the coronavirus as
you build and implement a COVID-19 physical security control
plan. Most common touchpoints in a facility are unavoidable and
of concern for many building tenants and employees.
Even as organizations begin to upgrade to touchless access
control systems, keys remain a vital access tool for controlling ingress
to high security workspaces like data centers and computer
rooms that house equipment and server racks, or in municipal
buildings, such as police stations, administrative offices, museums
and libraries where keys are used for public buildings, municipal
vehicles, and alarm boxes.
Having a key control solution that is able to audit and track
key usage and identify, the user is now as much a public health
concern as a security function. For example, in a resort of hotel
environment, by integrating hotel key inventory software, facility
managers can easily control reporting and program access
capabilities. If an employee has called in sick, and another staff
member must cover for that person, the manager can remotely
authorize access to a key management system rather than physically
traveling to the site to release a key. The hotel key control
software can run activity reports and sort based on different criteria,
allowing management to generate useful information to help
mitigate access control issues and at the same time use these reports
for contact tracing of employees who may have contracted
Security for any key system is the result of strict management
and protection of the physical keys, which includes policy-driven
key system protocols and software that enables searchable audit
data that can help with not only security but the new rigors of
COVID-19 tracking and monitoring.
A sound physical security control plan may seem daunting,
but intelligent technology investments and
proactive security policies that encompass an
integrated access control and key control roadmap
will bolster both security and COVID-19
health monitoring mandates now and into the
This article originally appeared in the April 2021 issue of Security Today.