Why a Key Management System May Be ‘Key’ to Your Campus Security

Published: September 24, 2013

Perhaps George Durnay, director of buildings, grounds and equipment maintenance for the Vacaville (Calif.) School District summed it up best when he chose to incorporate a key management system.

“It’s another way to protect the students. Accountability of the keys was out of control, so I also embraced the idea from a maintenance standpoint,” Durnay notes. “With key blanks that can’t be duplicated at the local Wal-Mart or Home Depot, we are now able to develop a checkout system and an education system so people understand the importance of accounting for their keys.”

After all, controlling the proliferation of duplicate keys within a managed key system has to be a first priority. With the use of a patented key system, facilities can better protect against duplication. Key blanks may only be acquired by the system’s manufacturer. Since designs are patented, attempts to duplicate the design without permission are subject to federal law. For instance, keys for the Vacaville School District are only available to authorized individuals through professional locksmiths who have been approved by the school district.

Geographically Exclusive Keys Provide Greatest Security

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Using various cylinders and keyways (see Keyway and Cylinder Overview on page 68) , facilities can provide a higher level of access control and security for people and assets by using a key that people will find difficult to copy. Using these multiple utility and design patents, key blank distribution is controlled at a variety of levels.

The most secure is when side biting is factory cut into a restricted key, featuring the patented undercut, to provide geographic exclusivity for the end user. When a high security cylinder is used, the lock is pick-resistant and can be optionally drill-resistant as well. Key blank distribution is controlled for positive, enforceable protection against unauthorized duplication.

Related Article: Your Phsyical Access Control Cheat Sheet

Such attributes were important to Son Nguyen, whose multiple maintenance responsibilities for Piedmont (Calif.) Unified School District (PUSD) include all locksmith work for the district. Previously, several different types of keys and keyways were used at various schools over the years. This led to a lack of key control, and anyone could have the keys duplicated. For greater security, PUSD switched to patent-protected keyways at all facilities.

Today, key blanks are only available with proper authorization, and Nguyen controls key cutting and distribution. The specific keyway is geographically restricted for only PUSD use within a two-digit zip code area. This acts as a means to keep costs under control. The higher security keyway is used on exterior doors, while interior doors use the lower security keyway.

That’s because, as explained earlier, the higher security key will operate both cylinders while a higher security key will only operate a higher security cylinder. This allows interior doors or less sensitive areas to be secured with lower security, less expensive cylinders. More vulnerable areas, such as exterior doors, are protected with high security cylinders. Since the standard keys do not operate high security cylinders, the district has an extra level of control over how much access each user has by choosing the type of key that is issued.

College Campuses Also Leverage Key Management Systems

For the past several years, Colorado Mesa University (CMU) has been growing rapidly, and its access control system has continued to expand with it. What began as an effort to standardize and improve the way building security hardware met the changing needs of the campus has led to an integrated system that provides flexibility and grows with the university’s requirements.

Beginning with the key system, CMU has steadily upgraded its security. Where keys are needed, Locksmith Preston C. Ellis chose the same patent-protected keyways that Vacaville and Piedmont were using to prevent unauthorized duplication.

Michael Burch, access control supervisor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hills, says, “We have a mandate to care for our students, faculty and staff as well as the buildings themselves, so we need to be proactive in providing the best level of security that we can. At the same time, security can be intrusive, so we need to minimize the inconvenience to the people we serve.”

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