How fast the fire department can access your building during an emergency is paramount. But what if locked doors prevent them from doing their job? A key safe contains building keys or access control cards that allow first responders to enter the premise quickly and without breaking down or damaging doors.
These external safes maintain a fine balance between security and life safety code. The risk is real – multiple businesses and hotels have been burglarized because thieves simply unlocked doors with a key obtained from a poorly maintained safe.
If your safe was haphazardly or incorrectly installed, your security can be compromised. It is incumbent to identify key safe risks and implement controls that manage these threats before they become incidents. Make sure your key safe is correctly mounted and protected to avoid a potential breach.
Mitigate Your Risks
A key safe is typically a 4-inch square box located outside the building premises. The untrained eye would not recognize it as a security vulnerability. The safe's master key is held by the fire department for easy access during an emergency.
Before installing a key safe, make sure to consult general or existing construction standards that address these types of units. To ensure your safe provides the highest level of security, follow these guidelines:
- Never surface mount a safe directly on the building facade. This will remove the risk of it being pried off easily. All key safes outside the building premises should be recessed into a properly sized cavity.
- Do not skimp on a less costly safe. The better constructed the safe, the more likely it will deter someone who is attempting to steal or break into it.
- Securely and redundantly mount the key safe with bolts into a main structure. A self-tapping screw is not secure mounting. Machine bolts should be accessible within the key safe to facilitate maintenance.
- Place key safes in areas of high pedestrian traffic, which promotes witness potential. Any exterior area with a key safe should have significant spot lighting.
- Discuss with the fire department the exact areas that need to be accessed. It is not advisable to place a grand master key within the enclosure, as the compromise of this key could be quite expensive if you need a building re-keyed. Consider sub-compartmentalizing building keying to minimize cost in the event the fire department's master key is lost or the safe is broken into.
- Provide a supervised alarm circuit and tamper switch that connects to a central station, central building location, or a trouble circuit on a fire alarm panel (code permitting).
- For more sophisticated buildings, place video surveillance in line with key safes. Also consider the use of an access control card, where applicable, that can be deactivated if compromised.
- Utilize employee awareness or security patrols to be aware of the key safe and validate that it has not been tampered with. Visual inspection of the cover and its keyway is vital because these components obscure views to the safe's keyway.
- Ensure that the fire department is required to notify you if their master key to the building becomes compromised. Any loss of the master key should be communicated immediately to building management.
- Avoid the risk entirely. In some instances, the fire department may work with you so you do not need a key safe outside the building. For instance, 24/7 security could meet the fire department at appropriate entrances and provide entry.
Failure to be proactive can be costly in the event of a loss and re-key. Apply these simple concepts to mitigate risks associated with key safes and ensure peace of mind.
Sean A. Ahrens is a project manager of security consulting and design services for Aon Risk Solutions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 847-953-7761.