Austin emergency master key system "compromised", city says

January 10, 2018 - 5:33 pm

AUSTIN (KJCE) -- The master key system used by emergency officials to access thousands of high-occupancy and commercial buildings across the City of Austin has been compromised, according to a city memo.

The "Knox box" system is required by city code to be placed on the exterior of high-occupancy and commercial buildings - more than 6,000 locations across the city. Each one contains keys and/or access cards that enable first responders to have immediate access to the property. A master key that opens the boxes is kept on each fire and emergency response vehicle in Travis County.

Officials say a burglar somehow got ahold of one of the master keys.

Austin Fire, according to the city memo, says it will cost $300,000 to replace the lock cylinders, issue new master keys, and install key retention boxes on several vehicles that do not have them. Officials say the system as currently installed is 34 years old. A second phase, planned for fiscal year 2019-2020, calls for replacing the retention boxes on the entire fleet of vehicles to support wirelessly updating the security codes.

The memo calls for an increased security protocol for the rekeyed system, including an enhanced routine reporting process requiring the keys on Austin Fire and Austin-Travis County EMS vehicles to be accounted for on a daily basis.

City Council is expected to receive the request from city staff in February.

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