Locking in a Key Management Plan

By Fernando Pires – VP, Sales and Marketing – Morse Watchmans

Of all the security measures that can be implemented in an organization’s physical security strategy, the systematic control of locks and keys is certainly one of the most important. Without a formal key control plan, facilities and/or security management risk placing the premises, its occupants and assets in a vulnerable position — regardless of how many high tech security tools might be in place. Knowing the identity of authorized key holders, which keys they have or have access to and when they were used is all essential information needed to help ensure a safe and secure environment.

Developing a key control and management plan is a relatively clear cut process that involves three basic steps.

1. Take inventory of the facility to identify all access points and installed locks.

2. Ascertain the operational needs of the employees as well as others who may need access to the facility (i.e. service repair, cleaning crew, etc.)

3. Establish a policy with easy to follow procedures for key control and management.

Taking Inventory
Cataloging every building, access point and every piece of door hardware is probably the most time consuming and laborious task of the three steps. Almost as arduous is the process of identifying the keys that fit each of the locks, which persons have keys, what keys they have and what doors they access. Once all doors have been labeled with an ID number and the keys and key holders have been accounted for and recorded, any routine maintenance issues can be addressed at this time.

Taking a physical inventory can also serve to alert security management of any shortcomings in the system. For instance, a closet that may have once been used only for storing office supplies may now be used for holding more valuable items and should be protected with a lock and key.

Operational Needs
The first purpose of reviewing operational needs is to fully understand how the facility works on a day-to-day basis so that operations are disrupted as little as possible when a key control and management plan is implemented. This might mean reviewing personnel movement such as shift changes or weekend access to the building with the HR department, shipping/receiving schedules with warehouse or mailroom management or discussing with the appropriate department heads the access to sensitive documents or areas within the facility.

Whether the key control plan is intended for a hospital, a dormitory, a hotel or an office building, having a comprehensive grasp of the daily activity will help in developing an effective key control and management plan and will also help in minimizing the trade-off between security and convenience.

At this stage, key control system vendors are a good source of information and guidance and will often provide demonstrations that highlight features and benefits to address specific needs. For example, if the maintenance/cleaning staff are primarily non-English speaking, a key control system that offers an access keypad designed with multiple languages and illuminated key slots for easy identification and return of keys would be ideal. Or, if the operational needs review indicated a requirement for storing larger more valuable objects such as laptop computers or weapons, it would be good to know if such a feature was available and by which vendor.

Developing a Key Control Policy
Policies that are overly complicated and not supported or documented with simple, operational procedures can create problems from the start. A simple but strong policy defines areas of responsibility and enables better control over the keys with fewer keys being lost or compromised. Also, key control systems that automatically record the access history of each key, including user, date and time of checkout/return and release assigned keys only to users with the proper authorization code help to ensure adherence to the established policies and procedures.

In some cases, convenience for the security staff can even be substantially increased. For example, network-capable key control systems allow management to easily program and implement changes over the LAN. In addition to the time and effort saved these immediately effective changes can help prevent incidents through actions such as denying access to keys to recently terminated employees. The network connectivity of the system also allows management to remotely release any key, adding to the convenience and inherent safety provided by a key control and management solution.

In short, the key to an effective key management plan is a reliable and easy to use key control system supplemented with accurate and detailed reporting information.