Installing an Electronic Key-Fob System: Here's What to Expect

This year, the Coliseum Park Apartments on the west side of Manhattan installed an electronic key-fob system across 32 exterior and common-area doors. The technology, already widespread in new condominium developments, opens doors wireless and keylessly, and the data provided, like that of security cameras, helps allow the co-op's building management to target and control access. Yet once your co-op or condo board has decided to use a key-fob system and your residents are aboard, what are the steps to actually getting it installed?

The two-building complex, which stretches from West 58th to West 60th Street behind the Time Warner Center, choose as its vendor Academy Mailbox, a security company it had already used to improve its intercom system and upgrade the security of some office spaces. Steve Arnold, vice president Academy, came on board last summer and brought with him experience installing similar technology in other New York residential buildings.

The installation happened in two phases. As Arnold explains, there were the "dirty work guys" and the "electronic guys." And finally, there was the installation of the magnetic strips, which was done by yet another contractor, Abbey Locksmiths.

The Wire

The first two months of labor were devoted to doing the wire runs. This was a bit like spinning an enormous wire web throughout the two apartment buildings in order to connect each door in the system to a central computer. Because the property's subterranean garage space is so large, the connection between the two buildings presented a challenge for the wire runners.

In the end they solved the problem by tapping into the building's phone wires that had already been laid down. Although this hurdle was overcome eventually, it was last minute changes like this that ultimately made the wiring take up more time and labor than Arnold had initially anticipated.

There would be other unwelcome surprises. When it came time to install the magnetic strips on some of the older doors in the basement, for instance, they soon found that the doors would need to be replaced in order to fit the new equipment. Having to order new ones would put construction back yet again and meant that Abbey Locksmiths had to return to the site a few additional times."[We] underestimated the amount of time needed for the wire," he concedes. "You try to calculate it in your head, but you can't stay on top of it."

"From starting to run the wire to now was two months of labor," Arnold recalls. "It wasn't a rushed job. If it [had been,] we could have gotten it done in a third of the time."

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fob

Setbacks notwithstanding, the installations were completed this January, including 32 doors tied into a centralized system and a huge stash of new key fobs ready to be assigned to their owners.

Part of what makes projects like this one challenging is that they are inherently resistant to being fully streamlined. There is a unique installation process for every building in New York and every level of security needed. Given that installation inevitably involves coming up with novel solutions to unforeseen challenges, what may be the most important factor is the tenacity of the people involved, with Arnold acting as a liaison between the construction crew and the building staff, and building superintendent Jason Panarella working diligently to make sure the doormen are well trained in the new software.