It's the truth. Mechanical key control is every bit as important to overall security goals as alarm systems, security video and a security officer patrol. Just as an end user painstakingly thinks through numerous elements of those latter programs, the same attention must be paid to key control.

Consider that, after investing in the higher profile electronic aspects of a security program, you realize that you don't know who has the key to the back door.

No matter if the organization is a large chain-store retailer, campus facility or single site, a common theme emerges when a security or facility manager makes the decision to fix a sometimes decades old key control program that's often inherited.

For example, many key control programs operate through the security or physical plant departments. These operations are most often the only ones allowed to cut and issue keys for doors and buildings. Changes often need written permission and core changes often include an outside vendor. The process is complex and expensive.

Typical Vendor View

For many, the typical process is: sort out the vendors and programs, hear the buzzwords, analyze the prices and make a decision. It's as though the act of making the decision cures all ills.

Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Key control is a complicated subject. It's far more than the cylinder that's installed in the door. It's far more than the keys employees hold. It's choosing a system that controls the quantities of existing keys and knowing at all times who holds those keys.

To accomplish this requires policies and procedures that really work within the organization.

Sound confusing? It's not, once a security or facility manager visualizes the organization, policies and procedures and employee base. Think about facility locations and incoming and outgoing employees. What kinds of communication are used to relay policies and procedures to them? How are those policies and procedures policed and enforced? Will management support enforcement or is there an "it doesn't apply to me" attitude?

Employee Knowledge

How will location managers or remote personnel know what the procedures are to obtain a new key? Will they understand how to treat a lost or stolen key?

All are critical questions when renovating mechanical key control programs.

SIDEBAR: Key Control Programs

Today, the top industry programs provide several critical elements:

Restricted keys - prevent unauthorized duplication - five keys

cannot grow to six without someone's proper authorization.

Re-key measures - a predefined procedure or method of

effectively re-keying doors affected by a lost or stolen key.

Monitoring systems - real-time tracking for key systems, one that

identifies who has what keys and what doors each key operates.

After identifying a vendor with these three elements, there's an

important, final step...take the new system out for a test drive.

SIDEBAR 2: Take a Test Drive

There's a solid procedure.

¥ For any security operation, first identify the most challenging situation already experienced or anticipated.

¥ Pick the one that creates the most havoc in terms of keys, security or even the flow of communication (the dormitory constantly being re-keyed or the store that has the highest employee turnover).

¥ Install the new program in a "controlled environment" along with a documented set of procedures and instructions for key control.

¥ Observe the new system for a few months and note glitches in the system so necessary adjustments are noted and made.

¥ Use feedback along with advice from a vendor or consultant to make necessary tune-ups before rolling out the program across the business.

¥ Involve key personnel and decision-makers in identifying the challenging situations, and in initial testing of the new system. Let this group of advisors help determine the flaws and use their suggestions for improvements. Their knowledge of real world situations will be invaluable in evaluating the effectiveness of the key control system's operation.

In addition, a key system vendor can be a valuable partner. The security program about to be implemented will become a critical cornerstone to security and facility goals.

The bottom line: find a system that is compatible with the business, the number of employees and the communication standards in place.