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Locks & Bagels

Written by NYC Locksmith on . Posted in Locksmith Articles

One of my favorite security stories concerns a bagel manufacturer in a southern city that doesn’t need to be named (yes, there are bagels made – and eaten – in the south). This was a small-scale manufacturer who began as simply a local baker and gradually began selling his bagels, pies, and other baked goods to specialty grocers.

At first he had a fairly standard industrial refrigerator in which to keep his dough chilled. Later, as his business expanded, he built a new facility for more large-scale production, and included in the design a well insulated cold-room, where he kept not only batches of dough but also fresh fruit that he used for tarts and pies. The cold-room was essential to counter the heat of the baking room bleeding through the building.

A very precise and careful man, Mr. – let’s call him Mr. Reed, for want of a better name – always made sure that doors were kept closed, windows locked, and everything as organized as could be. He also had a morbid fear of being locked in the cold-room unable to get out; I suppose he’d watched The Shining a few times too many. So the door had no lock or automatic closing mechanism, just a stiff, heavy chrome latch with handles inside and out. It was deliberately hung slightly askew, so that when unlatched it would swing open rather than closed.

It came to pass that Mrs. Reed nagged her husband into taking a summer vacation, their first in twenty years or so, and he left his assistant in charge during one of the hottest weeks of the year. The assistant – let’s call him Andrew – had a date (hot in a different way than the weather) and rushed out of the bakery as soon as the day’s work was done. He turned out the lights and the air conditioners and locked the front door, but not being as mindful of details as his boss, he neglected to latch the cold-room door.

When Andrew and the other employees arrived at three the next morning to start the day’s baking, they found that the heat from the baking facility had permeated the cold room. The fruits were spoiled and smelly and the dough ruined. So there were no bagels for Mr. Reed’s customers that morning. Andrew didn’t lose his job, but there was a lot of “dough” taken out of his paycheck over the next few months.

Despite the awful puns, this story always brings a smile to my face, even as I shake my head in wonder at Andrew’s carelessness. But I also think, now, that Mr. Reed was at fault. He could have averted the disaster – and for a small manufacturer the loss of a couple of days’ orders is a disaster – by installing a magnetic lock, an automatic closer, and a panic bar.

The point is that even when a building is completely secure from unauthorized access, there are often indoor rooms that need to be locked or securely shut. In business offices, for example, storage closets, record rooms, duplicating and copy rooms, and computer server rooms often have warning signs to “Keep door closed.” Whether for climate control, as in the case of a computer server system (or dough storage), for safety (to avoid having open doors blocking a hallway), or for security (keeping people out of storage or record rooms), there are valid reasons for making sure that they are kept closed.

One of the easiest ways to do so is with an automatic door closer and/or a magnet lock. Nearly everyone is familiar with the closing mechanisms on the storm doors of private homes, designed for doors to the outside and useful mainly for climate control (and most often at shin height). But interior door closers, generally top-mounted, are equally effective, with models designed for light, intermediate, or heavy doors and in a wide range of styles and prices. Door closers are especially useful in homes with children who, like Andrew, tend to be forgetful of rules.

Magnet locks can be locks or simple latching mechanisms. Miniature versions are familiar on closet doors in hotel rooms, among other places, and equally convenient in homes; larger, heavy-duty magnet locks are a must for many businesses. Carrying a holding force of 600 to 1,650 pounds or more, Emlock single and double door locks and Securitron’s sliding door locks are easy to install and highly effective. They can also be an effective means of keeping children out of an off-limits room or garage, while permitting an adult to operate them with ease (by releasing the electromagnet that keeps them closed).

Panic bars are a safety valve; they allow egress from a closed room or building without prior knowledge of how the unlocking mechanism operates (do you turn a handle left or right, push it up or down, is a key needed?). A panic bar makes it very clear what to do: push against it, the lock or latch is immediately released, and the door opens.

All these products are affordable essentials for businesses and valuable additions to home security and safety. If only Mr. Reed had used them, he could have provided his customers with a delicious meal of lox and bagels instead of losing the bagels for want of a lock!

Behind Lock & Key

Written by NYC Locksmith on . Posted in Locksmith Articles

Each of us has different security needs. I recently looked around our house, and I wasn’t too surprised by the number of locks I found. With five outside doors, not counting the garage door, we use two keys for three types of locks (all but one are keyed the same). The glass deck door requires a key to unlock it from the inside, to prevent someone from breaking a panel of glass, reaching in, and unlocking the lock.

But what I found inside surprised me. All three bedrooms, the two baths, and the basement door have locks on them. Nothing sophisticated, mind you, just the type that allows you to push the inside handle and turn it clockwise to keep anyone from getting access from the hall. They’re easy enough to pick – all you need is a six-penny nail, which can be inserted into a hole on the outside cover plate to release the spring lock inside. My dad installed them for my siblings and me, acknowledging that even teens deserve some privacy. Now, with no kids here, we don’t need them for that, but they’re equally effective at keeping prying guests from poking into bedrooms during a party (and believe me, we’ve had party guests like that!).

That’s a total of 12 lockable doors. Our inventory also includes a Federal-style china cabinet, two corner cabinets, a glass-front secretaire, and a sideboard, each with a warded barrel key; a gun cabinet with a flat key that unlocks both the glass display door and the drawers; and an antique oak desk whose center drawer and one of the side drawers locked with a long-lost barrel key. Even the “cabinet grand” piano has a keyhole and tiny deadbolt, though that key, too, disappeared long ago.

We also have keys to my cousin’s house, a friend’s apartment, three cars, a tool chest, and half a dozen inlaid decorative boxes. If I put all our keys on one ring, I’d feel like the housekeeper in the wonderful movie “The Others.” I’m glad I work at home – I no longer have to carry around keys to an office as well!

To get back to my point, each of us has different security needs. What matters is not just what locks and keys you own, but what security you ought to have. For example, everyone needs to lock up some valuables or personal items (antique china that a child might break, birthday presents bought in advance, mom and dad’s adult video collection). If you have children, you probably have a closet with a lock. If a child locks himself in, it’s essential that he or she be able to get out again, so having a quick-release handle inside – in effect a small panic bar – can keep your child safe.

Panic bars are also required by building codes for places with public access. Most codes state that, in effect, “egress through access-controlled doors must not require prior knowledge of operational requirements.” In other words, customers don’t have to know what to do to make it work. Various types of pressure-sensitive bars are designed to release electromagnetic or mechanical door locks for unrestricted egress in case of emergency.

Similarly, window gates are essential for a family in a high-rise with small children, and an in-floor or hidden wall safe is a must-have for homeowners who keep valuables on the premises. Many city businesses need rolling gates to prevent access and vandalism, while a suburban restaurant with little to steal (unless there’s a market for aluminum napkin dispensers and Formica chairs) might prefer a simple but effective deadbolt lock and an alarm system that alerts police to a break-in.

In one of her Jane Marple mysteries Agatha Christie described a shoe salesman who “wants to sell you black leather because he has it in stock, when what you want is brown suede.” What Christie understood is that it’s your needs, not the merchant’s, that should guide your locksmith and security related decision-making.

Do a security inventory to analyze what your needs are – for your home, business, or both. Then visit a reputable dealer with a wide variety of product lines and systems and the expertise to give you honest advice. That way you can buy the security system that’s right for you, rather than the products a salesman wants you to have.

The Humble Padlock

Written by NYC Locksmith on . Posted in Locksmith Articles

I remember my first padlock. It was a Master combination lock for my gym locker in seventh grade. The dial was blue, and if I’m mot mistaken, the combination was 13-24-4. Three turns clockwise, two counterclockwise, and clockwise to the final number.

Since those days I’ve grown a little more sophisticated about the locks I use. For a number of years I’ve had a Hampton padlock for my bicycle, with a case-hardened steel shackle, brass pin tumblers in a laminated steel body, coated with black rubberized plastic to make it weatherproof (and protect the bike’s paint). It’s a handsome lock, rectangular, squat, and strong, but it’s nothing compared to some of the locks on the market today.As far as I can tell, it’s now sold as the True Value hardware brand.

But much stronger and more versatile locks are now available, too. Medeco, makers of a famed patented cylinder lock whose keys cannot be duplicated except by authorized dealers, offers the same cylinder design for its padlock, making it virtually impossible to pick. The case hardened steel body incorporates steel inserts in critical areas of the cylinder to protect against drilling, cutting, and even sledgehammer attacks. According to the company’s specifications, the design protects against up to 10,000 lbs of bolt cutter force and up to 4,500 lbs of shackle pulling power.

Mr-Locks features a line of locks that is a very impressive for just about any use imaginable. They range from a standard low-guard style familiar to every locker-room visitor, to a high-guard version of the same lock (the E-series), both with hardened Boron shackle and body, to a sliding bolt lock that allows almost no access to the shackle-bolt, to a chain lock with a 48-inch square link steel chain. Multi-Lock’s C- and T-series locks are heavy duty, while its E-series are considered Extra-Heavy Duty. These locks must be installed by licensed locksmith technicians, and not just by anyone, that may not be able to successfully install them, or even inflict damage upon them.

Medeco and KW locks are designed for real security, not just gym lockers (though using one would pretty much guarantee that your suit will still be there when you come back from your shower!) The technological improvements from decade to decade have made it possible to protect everything from storage boxes to car dealers’ lots with a lot more confidence than was possible even a generation ago.

For any padlock aficionado, one of the most delightful aspects of these versatile locks is the strides made in design over the past 20 years or so. While hardened steel is still the most commonly used material for the body, locks are available in solid brass or anodized aluminum that can be color-coded to meet Federal safety codes. Online you can find bright yellow cylinder padlocks that are shaped like a Vienna sausage, and of course the elegant black hardened boron of the KW E-series. Sizes, shapes, design, and materials used make it possible for a qualified locksmith to provide the padlocks that meet every customer’s exact need.
They’re all a far cry from the red, green, orange, and blue Master combination locks that used to line row after row of lockers in my middle school. And what a change for the better!

Keys & Kids

Written by NYC Locksmith on . Posted in Locksmith Articles

Everybody’s familiar with Toys ‘R’ Us, a parent’s best friend or worst nightmare. I drove by our local store the other day and it occurred to me there ought to be a sister company called Kids ‘R’ Kurious. The thought came to mind because two friends of mine have a 19-month-old daughter whose curiosity is just coming into flower. Her favorite fascination just now is keys.

A few weeks ago, walking in their neighborhood, she and her dad came across a group of three postal drop boxes – the kind with a slot to drop the mail in and a locked door for the mailman to retrieve it. Dad was indulging Bo’s interest by letting her play with the seven keys he carries for his home, office, etc. It’s not that Dad was a locksmith, he wasn’nt. The toddler decided to toddle up to the mailboxes and, to her father’s amusement, try all seven keys in the lock of the first box . . . and then the second, and then the third. Twenty-one failures later, she was ready to head home.

Most recently she’s discovered the fun of pushing the buttons on the car key control box. A few days ago Mom and Dad drove into the driveway and parked. While Dad was unfastening her safety seat, Bo took the keys from his hand. He didn’t think much about it, since she’s at the pick-it-up-and-hand-it-to-you-with-a-big-grin stage. Meanwhile Mom gathered the bag of baby tricks – the diapers, bottle, food, toys, etc. – and when Dad was ready, Mom locked the car and they headed toward the house. Then they heard a familiar sound and turned to look behind them. Bo was busy pushing all the buttons on the keys, and not only were the doors unlocked, the trunk lid was slowly rising. Thank goodness she didn’t hit the red alarm key!

Families with older children face a problem not of curiosity but of carelessness: security just doesn’t matter to teenagers who believe in their own invulnerability.

Parents go out, locking the door. The teenage son comes home, unlocks the door, turns on some music, and waits for his friends to come by. And what happens? The friends come in, too. Teen-dude didn’t want to bother answering the door when they show up! So now they’re all in the house with the music blasting (or headphones on) and an unlocked door inviting anyone to walk right in.

Teaching children the importance of security is as important as installing the right system of locks and alarms for your house. Very few people leave an extra key under the doormat or over the sill these days, and even parents with latchkey kids don’t like having to give housekeys to children too early. But whether you protect your house with traditional locks or a state-of-the-art keyless entry and alarm system, it’s more important than ever to impress upon children at an early age that security isn’t just the right equipment, it’s an ongoing process. An entry code is just as vulnerable as a physical key to misuse through careless distribution. Smart homeowners (and renters) have a master key for each lock that can be copied; all the others should be stamped “Do not duplicate.” And if you have an electronic or keyless entry system, you need to teach your children that the alarm or entry code is not to be shared!
Another tip – whenever you have houseguests, change the codes while they’re there and again after they leave. And if you happen to run across my friends and their daughter Bo, keep your keys in your pocket.

Going Overboard with Surveillance Cameras

Written by NYC Locksmith on . Posted in Locksmith Articles

Some places are more security conscious than others. Some are just luckier – or perhaps they know how to play the angles.

Dillingham, Alaska, a no-stoplight town with a population of 2,400, received a grant of $202,000 from the Homeland Security Department to install 80 surveillance cameras at the local port and elsewhere around the town, including the Fire Department and City Hall. That works out to a camera for every 30 residents. When citizens complained about procedural issues that led to the grant, the mayor resigned in a huff. Most of CCTV systems and security cameras are installed by licensed locksmith professionals, many specializing in this specific trade.

One problem with the cameras – besides questions of civil liberty that have been raised by citizens furious that downtown movements will be watched – is that they take only still pictures. According to the Anchorage Daily News, the cameras have no audio and take one picture every 15 minutes. Which leads one to wonder, “What’s the point?”

Anchorage, meanwhile, with a population of 260,000, has fewer than 40 security cameras covering its major international port. New York City has 500 to observe its 7,000,000 residents.

These cameras are a far cry from industrial, corporate, and residential videocams that actually play a useful role in increasing security for a specific building or installation. A single security guard can easily keep an eye on half a dozen or more cameras showing live video of a hallway, entrance, or other access point. One has to wonder what a town like Dillingham will do with the 7,680 images collected every day.

Last week the records of 2.6 million veterans, including their Social Security numbers and vast amounts of other private information, were stolen from the house of an employee who took them home on a laptop. Millions of private citizens have their phone records monitored just in case they happen to call someone who, for any reason or no reason, is on a “watch list.” Ports are unguarded, but downtown Dillingham is photographed 24/7.

The Homeland Security Department could instead be taking steps that would really protect our nation. It would be truly useful, for example, to have American seaports and airports under comprehensive video surveillance – all places at all times, with special attention paid to boarding and departing areas and cargo lading depots.