The old safe had a massive appearance which was in stark contrast to the man about to attack it. Wearing coveralls and eye-protection, there were few tools at his side – no computer, no sophisticated drills or saws, in fact nothing that plugged into the wall; just a few simple hand tools that might have been purchased at a local store.
The safe stood open – the door clearly several inches thick. Then the door was closed, its handle pulled up to lock it, and the dial spun for “good measure.”
The timer was started; the attacker picked up his first tool and set to work.
After some time, the attacker laid aside his tools, grasped the handle of the safe, jerked it up – and opened the door. The safe was defeated!
And just how long was “some time?” In this safe-attack demonstration, the safe went from locked to standing open in … fourteen … not minutes, but seconds. The attack was quick and simplistic – using simple, readily available hand tools; and it took only 14 seconds.
Although large and formidable in appearance, it was basically a fire safe – created with the purpose of keeping its contents below a critical temperature. What enabled its defeat in so short a time was its lack of a relock device aka “relocker” – a system designed to foil certain quick and simple attacks by way of the door and locking mechanism. Though details of the method of attack are deliberately omitted here, many burglars do know how to crack a fire safe without a relocker – just as quickly as in this demonstration.
A safe is a mechanical device. It locks and unlocks by a system of bars and levers within the door – enabled by a lock which may be either mechanical or electronic. A relock device is a system within the door of the safe that serves to block the bolt mechanism from operating. If triggered by an attack on the door of the safe, the safe becomes “permanently” locked; i.e., it will require a locksmith or safe technician to open – and repair – the safe.
Early safe relocking systems used internal trip wires to protect critical parts of the safe locking system. If the wire was broken, as it might be under certain forms of attack, an independent drive bolt was released into the framing of the door – a bolt which was not operated by the handle. Burglars might still be able to open the safe, but it would take longer. Many of those safes are still in use today, and in most cases the relocking system would still function in an attack.
“Gravity relockers:” In later safe designs, an attack on the door would cause something to drop into a position that would block the bolt mechanism of the safe, jamming the mechanism.
Most relocking systems today are triggered by a plate of tempered glass protecting certain parts of the safe. If the glass breaks during an attack, one or more spring-loaded pins will be released, freezing up the safe. (Never slam the door of a safe with a glass relocker.)
How do you know if a safe has a relocking system?
Look for the UL tag. Is it “TL” or “TR” rated (standing for tool and torch)? Any safe that is burglary rated by Underwriters’ Laboratories has a relocking system (a prerequisite to being submitted for testing). Examples of burglary ratings are TL-15 (tool resistant, 15 minute test) and TRTL 30×6 (torch and tool resistant, 30 minute test, all 6 sides tested). *For more details on UL burglary ratings see the April issue of Southern Jewelry News or Mid-America Jewelry News.
Absent a UL burglary rating, look for an Underwriters’ Laboratories tag that specifically states, “RELOCKING DEVICE.” If you see a fire rating tag on the safe (such as 1 hour/350 degrees), it is especially important to see a “relock device” tag; otherwise the safe should not be used for high valued goods. (14 seconds?)
Caution note when shopping used safes: When a rating is given to a safe or vault door, it is required that the tags be permanently riveted to the unit when the safe is manufactured, and the serial number on the tag is matched to the unit in UL records. A UL tag that is otherwise attached (e.g., by screws) may not be on the safe for which it was originally intended.
Regarding safes in general: Several articles have appeared in this journal on safes and vaults, most recently in the April issue: “Safes and Vaults – Some Facts and Myths.”
Only a safe that carries an “X6” in the rating should be considered for high security (e.g., TRTL 30X6), because only X6 safes are tested completely. Since burglars often break into safes through the top, sides, back, and even bottom, in an X6 safe, UL technicians test all six surfaces of the safe.
Non “X6” safes, (e.g., TL-15) should be considered only for moderate security applications. Be sure and check with your insurance carrier before making any decisions about a safe or vault, to be certain that the unit being considered will meet minimum insurance requirements.
In some instances where there is limited exposure, even a fire safe may be adequate for insurance purposes (though not preferred). But look for the relock device on such a safe, as a fire safe without one provides virtually no burglary protection at all.
A person buying a safe should know as much about safes as the person selling one. Understanding what a relocking system is and the measure of protection it adds is good information to have.
Just remember – a safe without a relocker … fourteen seconds. Look for the UL tag.
Bob Carroll of Robert G. Carroll and Associates is a Certified Insurance Counselor who has been providing insurance services for the jewelry industry for over 25 years, representing Jewelers Mutual and other carriers in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Tennessee. “Jewelers isn’t just what we do, it’s all we do!” Go to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.