Mechanical Combination Locks: Yes Or No?
Is it ever acceptable to install mechanical combination locks on low traffic external doors or on internal entry points where there’s no budget for dragging in power and data cables?
A: If you only have a single door to contend with it may be tempting to go with mechanical combination locks – it’s cheap – you install and forget – there aren’t even any keys to lose. But there are problems with going mechanical. Mechanical keyways have no intelligence, no ability to discern between users who know the mechanical code, no memory of events and no ability to monitor door state. Mechanical keyways mean investigators are relying on things like alarm events or video surveillance footage for clues, either of which may be inconclusive and all of which will certainly be time consuming.
As a general rule, sites with mechanical combination locks will rely on their alarm systems to defend themselves from the failings of their access procedures, which are certain to include that they will almost never re-set combinations after staff leave, instead depending on the trustworthiness of former staff. When it comes to mechanical combination locks, there’s always inertia around changing codes – it’s just human nature.
The codes used for mechanical combo locks are like keys in a way – when there are many doors to mechanically reset with new codes, the easiest and least expensive option is to leave the process of upgrading alone and hope the code is not passed around and that your staff are completely trustworthy, rather than having a member of the management team going around a site ‘tennis shoeing’ the combination locks through a process of physical reset. It’s just too fiddly and getting a locksmith in each time would be too expensive.
Codes are not great for users, either. Most users have so many codes to remember with card PINs and website security codes, etc, etc, etc, that they tend to employ the same code for everything. The only way they can manage a new code is if it’s kept simple, verbally shared between users when someone forgets, or is written down. The greater the number of mechanical combo locks, the less information you can glean from your site’s access control system. With system-wide mechanical lock codes you can forget all about audit trails.
In areas where it’s a challenge to install hardwired access control systems, we’d recommend using wireless locking solutions with event reporting stored on the credential and moved around the site to a central location as the authorised users goes through the authentication process. It’s fair to say that cloud-based management of mechanical keys makes them a safer and more accountable solution than mechanical combination door locks.