Risk Management Starts with Keys

Risk Management Starts with Keys

Campus safety is currently at the forefront of discussion within the security industry. With repeated, widely publicized incidents, it’s a topic that’s garnered calls for change across the nation and sparked ongoing debate. According to Education Week, there have been 142 school shootings since 2018, with 50 occurring this year. That’s nearly one every week. Usually, key management isn’t mentioned as a solution to that problem, but perhaps it’s time we re-evaluate its role in stemming this troubling tide.

Recently, a large university came to us after an incident on campus. A student acquired a master key, made numerous copies of it, and was selling them for $25 out of a fraternity house basement. When the university realized what happened, they had no idea how long the student had had the key, nor how many people had copies of it. This key had access to the most secure and confidential parts of campus, including students’ dormitories.

Luckily, no one was hurt because of the theft. But considering the potential consequences of losing such an important asset, the university realized they needed to make serious and immediate changes. It forced them to take a comprehensive look at how they managed their most valuable assets on campus and the risk that ultimately came with their current system in place.

Breaking the “Norm”

Another major university recently approached us and wanted to improve its security measures regarding the protection of their keys. When asked what measures they currently have in place, they told us whoever takes the master key for the day stores it in their personal locker before they head home. This university has over 23,000 students, plus thousands of employees, and not one proactive security measure in place when it comes to one of their most important assets. Anyone could take that master key while the university simply hopes they'd return it in good faith. Shockingly, many higher education institutions across the country still rely on that “honor system.”

Even with the evolution of technology, we know one thing for certain: There's always going to be a need for a physical key. For most of our colleges and universities, their measures of security are changing from old-fashioned to accountable. With key management solutions that monitor who checked the key out and when it is returned, leadership now has the peace of mind that keys aren’t mysteriously floating around campus and ending up in a fraternity house basement.

When we talk to these schools about how they currently manage key security, most of them are ashamed of the lack of measures that they have in place. With audit information available constantly, if a set of master keys were to vanish, they can see who had the key and where that key was in use, and most importantly, where the liability lies.

The Time and Money Saver

Keeping your assets secured is always at the top of our list, but so is your organization’s efficiency and sustainability. If one master key set is misplaced, an entire re-key is required to make sure that there aren’t any security issues. One small university we recently installed our software for lost a set before they came to us, and they had to rekey every lock on campus. The school had only about 800 students enrolled, but the re-key cost them $78,000.

At another major university we’ve partnered with, they found that before they installed key management solutions, employees were spending an average of 90 minutes every day walking back and forth from the key rooms. We worked with them to strategically install multiple cabinets that now allow keys to be returned to a secure and optimal location. Plus, instead of searching for keys and walking back and forth between key rooms, employees have more time to complete their daily tasks.

Solutions can extend beyond just access keys. Another campus found that after they started using key cabinets for their university vehicles, the older cars weren’t getting as much use as they needed to. Previously, employees would demand one of the newer vehicles, which accelerated wear and tear on them. Now, with key cabinets that monitor vehicle usage and maintenance, staff are assigned vehicles that are used equally, thereby extending the life of the vehicles and saving the university money on repeated maintenance costs.

Change is on the Horizon

Through many partnerships from various institutions across the country, we’ve found many organizations face similar, critical challenges when it comes to key management. Most of them won’t change their practices until something happens that forces them to do so. If you’re a university, are you willing to find out what that event would be for you? Or are you going to be a part of a growing number of schools that are abandoning that “norm” and start relying on proven accountability through key management?

This article originally appeared in the March / April 2023 issue of Campus Security Today.

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