Fail-Safe vs Fail-Secure Locks

The physical access control of a building often relies on electric power. The modern access control hardware uses electricity to lock or unlock doors.

What if there is a power outage? Is the building secure when the electricity goes off?

It depends on whether the building is using fail-safe or fail-secure locks.

  • Fail-safe lock: A fail-safe lock is a locking device that unlocks itself when the power goes off. You have to apply the power to lock a fail-safe product.  
  • Fail-secure lock: A fail-secure lock is a device that keeps the door locked even during a power outage. You have to apply electric power to unlock a fail-secure product.

Depending on the security needs and egress requirements of the building, you may need to choose between a fail-safe lock and a fail-secure lock. To know which is the right lock for your door, it is essential to understand the operational differences and the situations when they can be used.

To help you make the right decision, this article provides an overview of when to deploy a fail-safe or fail-secure lock and how each integration with a cloud-based access control system.

When to use a fail-safe lock

Fail-safe locks are used when occupant safety is prioritized over physical assets. For example, property managers often install fail-safe locks for emergency exit doors.

  • Fire: When a fire starts in a building, the fire alarm, smoke detection system or sprinkler system trigger an immediate unlock of the fire exit door by stopping the electric supply to the locking device.
  • Active shooter situation: If doors with fail-safe locks are integrated with cloud-based access control, the security administrator can unlock the nearest exit door with a click of a button from a remote location during an active shooter situation. The cloud-based access control may eliminate the need for people to press the touchpad of the panic hardware for emergency egress.

When to use a fail-secure lock

Fail-safe locks are used when protecting the building’s physical assets is the highest priority. Property managers often install fail-secure doors for internal fire-rated doors.

  • Stop spreading the fire internally: With the feature of keeping the door locked during a power outage, fail-secure locks can stop the fire from spreading from one room to another.
  • Warehouses: Fail-secure locks are often used to protect the products or valuable equipment stored within a warehouse. Fail-secure locks restrict unauthorized people from entering warehouses regardless of whether there is a power outage or battery failure.

Today, many organizations use fail-secure locks for IT rooms and data centers..

Lock types to consider

Property managers use different types of locks to increase the security of buildings. These may include electromagnetic locks, electric strikes, and wireless locks.

Electromagnetic Locks

An electromagnetic lock, maglock or magnetic lock is a locking device often used for emergency exit doors, interior doors to enable quick movement of people between rooms, stairwell doors and perimeter doors.

A magnetic lock operates with two main components. They are an electromagnet and an armature plate.

An electromagnet is installed on the door frame, whereas the armature plate is installed on the side of the door in a way that it comes into contact with the electromagnet when the door is closed.

When the door is closed, the electromagnet energized by the electric power, bonds with the armature plate, resulting in a locking action. A consistent source of power is required to keep the locking action intact.

The door unlocks itself when the electric power flowing into the electromagnet is severed. To trigger an unlocking action, users may need to present their access credentials through physical key fobs, key cards, swipe cards, mobile keys, smartphones or access cards to access control devices such as access readers or mag-stripe readers.

Electromagnetic locks are fail-safe because they trigger an unlocking action when there is a power failure. Property managers can use this electrified hardware for emergency exits by integrating it with a fire alarm system or smoke detection system.

Electric Strikes

There are two main components in an electric strike. They are a latch or bolt and strike plate. When the door is closed, the strike plate holds the latch to trigger a locking action. Electric strikes, unlike magnetic locks, don’t require a consistent source of power to keep the locking action intact. Instead, they need the electric power to trigger an unlocking action. The electric latch retraction takes place to unlock the door when electric power flows into it. 

These electromechanical locksets, similar to magnetic locks, can trigger an unlocking action when users present physical key fobs, key cards, swipe cards, mobile keys, smartphones or access cards from the entry side.

Electric strikes (also referred to electromechanical locks) are fail-secure. Since electric strikes keep the door locked during the power outage, they are typically used in combination with push bars, panic bars or request-to-exit devices to provide free egress for people inside the room when the power goes off. Without REX devices, building occupants cannot move out of the building when the power goes off.

Electric strike doors are ideal for warehouses, locker rooms, server rooms and emergency lockdowns. By locking the door from outside, they will restrict unauthorized people from accessing the property.

Due to their fail-secure mechanism, electric strikes are not suitable for emergency exits. However, you can convert an electric strike into fail-safe locks with the help of an integral switch and use them as fire exit hardware.

Wireless locks

A wireless lock is a locking device that triggers a locking or unlocking action when it receives an authentication command from an authorized user through Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or other signal-based technology.

Wireless locks don’t require any physical fobs or keys to open the door. They can be controlled remotely with a smartphone application. Depending on the security needs of the enterprise, wireless locks can be configured as fail-safe or fail-secure.

Wireless locks can be integrated with mobile access control systems to enhance user convenience and building security.

For instance, Genea’s mobile access control allows employees to use their NFC or BLE-enabled smartphones to unlock wireless locks and all other kinds of electronic locks. The benefits of Genea’s mobile access control are:

  • Open doors by tapping the mobile application or twisting the smartphone in front of the door access reader.
  • Use the smartphone as a keycard.
  • A simple three-step process to set up the system and generate access credentials for users.
  • Smartwatch compatible (Users can open the door by tapping their Apple watches).
  • A cloud-based access credentialing system that lets security administrators manage access credentials and monitor access activities from a remote location.
people walking through office lobby through door

Genea’s cloud-based access control can be configured to fail-safe and fail-secure locks

Not all locking mechanisms are suitable for all kinds of security and egress requirements of a building. Property managers have to carefully evaluate if they need a fail-safe or fail-secure locking system before procuring locks. A fail-safe mechanism is suitable for emergency exit doors as it unlocks the door when the power goes off. The fail-secure mechanism is suitable for properties like warehouses where valuable equipment is stored.

Magnetic locks are fail-safe. They are best suited for emergency exit doors of assembly halls, hotels, workplaces and residential apartments. The fail-secure electric strikes are best suited for sensitive areas such as locker rooms, server rooms and internal fire doors. Wireless locks can be configured as fail-safe or fail-secure depending on the requirements.

Property managers can integrate magnetic locks, electric locks and wireless locks with cloud-based access control systems that offer sleek dashboards to manage access credentials and monitor access activities from anywhere, any device, at any time.

Genea’s cloud access control system is compatible with both fail-safe and fail-secure locks. It provides a global dashboard that helps manage multiple door locks from a remote location. It allows security admins to assign access keys, key fobs, swipe cards or mobile keys for both fail-safe doors and fail-secure doors to ensure that only authorized people have access to the building’s premises. Genea’s cloud-based access control streamlines emergency exits with fail-safe locks; it enables security administrators to open the emergency doors with a click of a button during emergencies.

Book a demo to learn more about how your fail-safe or fail-secure locks can be integrated with Genea’s cloud-based access control to streamline the physical security system of the building.

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