Most departments have had at least one property owner question the security of placing their key in a box mounted to the exterior of their building. Knowing the security of the Knox-Box® would be a concern. Knox has taken many steps to make the Knox-Box as impregnable as possible with the majority of the security features designed into the box. We even submit our products to an independent testing lab (UL)* to make sure they meet the security standards we advertise.
One department decided to put the Knox-Box to the test to see just how secure the box actually was. What started as simple firehouse banter turned into a challenge. The Fire Marshal (Lieutenant Dale Fahrney) would talk about how safe and secure the box was while the firefighters said it’s only a box. “I was telling him to get over himself. It’s basically just a metal box. And anything can be broken into,” explained Lieutenant Steve Shupert. Since members of the department have been trained on forcible entry and had a variety of tools readily available, they decided to test the security of a 3200 Knox-Box. “We do a lot of forcible entry training. We’ve spent a lot of time studying the methods and tools used in forcing entry. We thought we could pop the box,” shared Lieutenant Shupert.”
Lieutenant Shupert and firefighters Jeremy Smith and Mike Wilcox began the challenge by installing a surface mounted 3200 hinged Knox-Box inside their station. “We used a plywood skin backed up with some dimensional lumber. It was in there pretty good,” shared Lieutenant Shupert.
They started by trying to pick the lock. “While I have picked some locks previously (non-Knox products), I couldn’t pick the lock on the Knox-Box,” Lieutenant Shupert said. Shupert had used the internet to learn more about picking locks before starting the challenge. “I believe half of them (on-line videos) are fake if not all of them. I couldn’t get any of their ideas or suggestions to work,” explained Lieutenant Shupert.
Next, they disassembled the hinge. “In most cases when you disassemble the hinge of a door you render the system in failure. That’s not true for the Knox-Box. The hinge on the Knox-Box merely held the door in place to keep it from falling to the ground,” explained Firefighter Mike Wilcox.
Finally they began to attack the box. “We decided to go through the lock,” stated firefighter Jeremy Smith. First, they chiseled the dust cover off. “Then we tried to whack the lock cylinder out but the screws kept stripping out. We couldn’t get a bite on it,” explained Smith.
Finally, they moved on to more conventional forcible entry techniques. Initially they used a short pry bar but they continued to be unsuccessful. Finally they pulled out their largest pry bar – a 36 inch Halligan bar. Still they had no success in “popping” the box. While the Knox-Box was showing some damage it still hadn’t been compromised.
By now, they had spent about two hours trying to break into the box. While they had been unsuccessful, they were still very determined to get the box open without the key. So they brought out the heavy tools – tools that the average criminal wouldn’t carry around with them.
Final attempt to compromise the KNOX-BOX
They pulled out a saw with a steel rated blade. With the saw, they were able to cut open the box while also managing to set a floor mat on fire. This took them about ten minutes. The sparks from the saw started the fire. Good thing these firefighters were wearing fire resistant uniforms and inside a firehouse. No one was hurt and the fire was extinguished quickly. “If there had been any access cards inside the box, they would have been damaged,” commented Lieutenant Shupert.
“If a bad guy could knock the box off the wall, and the box was not alarmed, and they retreat to a van (with the box) and worked in private they might get the box open. It is our opinion that the customer’s door is much easier to break into than the Knox Box,” shared Lieutenant Shupert.
While Knox has designed most security features into a Knox-Box, the final layer of security is the actual installation. Knox strongly recommends all departments require their property owners to install Knox products per the installation instructions. And if possible, install a tamper switch connected to the building’s burglar alarm.
The Miami Township Division of Fire/EMS (Montgomery County, Ohio) serves a 22.08 square mile area with a nighttime population of 26,000 and a daytime population of close to 65,000. The Division of Fire/EMS, which consists of 35 career and 40 part-time employees, work out of four stations.
*Editor's Note: The specific UL listing referenced in this article is UL 1037, as required by 2012 NFPA 1 (Chapter 126.96.36.199) and 2012 IFC (Chapter 506.1).