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What Is a Knox-Box®?

By Paul Scott
Updated May 17, 2024
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A Knox-Box® is a locked canister or enclosure in which emergency services access keys for buildings are kept. The locks on these boxes in any area are typically keyed alike to allow fire departments to carry a single master key to open all Knox-Boxes® in that area. The benefit of having access keys readily on hand at a premises in case of fires includes a reduction in the potential damage caused due to forced entry by firefighting teams. The disadvantages of the Knox-Box® system are the obvious security risks of keys in a public access location. These dangers are, however, largely negated by the integration of the boxes into existing security systems and limiting access to the master keys by fire departments.

The outcome of building fires is often dependent on the ability of firefighters to quickly access the interior. As many fires occur at times when buildings are unoccupied, this often poses a problem and requires firefighting teams to gain forced entry by breaking out windows or doors. If the fire is quickly contained and no structural damage is done, this forced entry is often an unnecessary additional expense for the building owners. Knox-Boxes® are often used to address this problem by placing a limited set of exterior access door keys in a secure, safe like enclosure in a marked, easily accessed point on the outside of the building.

The Knox-Box® is typically a small, robust metal enclosure with a locked access door on its front. Also known as the Knox-Box Rapid Entry System®, these mini-safes feature locks which are keyed alike with all other boxes in the area or in a specific precinct. The master key for these boxes is kept in a secure location at the relevant fire department and often require dual level authorization to access. Notwithstanding these security measures, the use of Knox-Box® does pose the obvious security risk of having premises keys stored in a public place.

One way of negating this risk is the integration of a Knox-Box® into the building's security system. This will flag a security company or the building owners if the box is opened, thereby alerting them to possible illicit activity. Each box is often fitted with electronic locks and linked to the security company's control room via a dedicated phone line. If the fire department requires emergency access, security firm personnel can open the lock remotely using DTMF tone technology.

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