A metal cutting saw with the blade horizontally across both legs of the shackle. (author photo)
In the second installment of this three-part series, I am going to discuss a few of the more common external locking mechanisms used in conjunction with roll-down security gates. When a business owner invests thousands of dollars to install a roll-down security gate, he typically doesn’t skimp on the locks used to secure the gate during nonbusiness hours. A roll-down gate secured with inferior locks defeats the overall purpose of the system. Bearing that in mind, most store owners will spend the extra money and invest in high-security padlocks of one form or another. The combination of a roll-down gate secured with multiple high-security locks can pose a significant entry problem for responding firefighters. Having a general knowledge of the locks being used and how best to defeat them will improve your ability to make entry in an efficient and a timely manner.
Manual and mechanical gates use a locking pin and a high-security padlock to secure the gate in the down and locked position during nonbusiness hours. Electronic gates usually do not have external locking mechanisms because they are secured in the down and locked position when the gear in the electric motor is engaged. The lack of any external locking mechanism is, in fact, a great indicator of an electronic gate. Electric gates may have a high-security padlock securing the box, which contains the electric key switch that must be removed to open the gate electronically.
The locking pin used on manual and mechanical gates is a ½-inch steel pin that passes through the gate channel rail and a gate slat (photo 1). A ½-inch hole is drilled in the channel rail and the corresponding slat, allowing the pin to enter (photo 2). A metal staple or ring is welded to the channel rail adjacent to the hole, allowing a padlock to attach to the gate assembly and engage the locking pin (photos 3 and 4). The number and types of locks can vary on any given gate from two hardened padlocks up to and in excess of six to eight shielded hockey puck locks, depending on the size of the gate, security issues in the area, and the merchandise being secured.
Locks are classified as high security based on their characteristics and inherent features. High-security locks are typically larger than ordinary padlocks, are made with case-hardened steel, are equipped with a heel and toe shackle mechanism, and have a guarded key way with a screw retained core (photo 5).
Case hardening is a process done to metal where additional carbon is infused into the case to harden the outer surface. This process significantly hardens the locks’ outer surface, making them impenetrable using traditional means such as a bolt cutter. The heel and toe shackle mechanism is a feature common to high-security padlocks where the shackle locks at both the heel and the toe. This prevents the lock from rotating if one leg of the shackle is severed. The shackle on a heel-and-toe-equipped padlock must therefore be cut on both sides to remove the lock. The key way on these locks is guarded with a bolted shield, which passes through the lock to retain the core, making removing the key way and jimmying the lock nearly impossible (photo 6).
The most common high-security padlock in use today is the American Series 700 padlock. This lock has all of the aforementioned features, making it a formidable security device that is challenging to defeat (photo 7). When you encounter this lock on a roll-down gate, the quickest and most reliable way to defeat it is to cut the shackle with a rotary saw equipped with an aluminum oxide (metal) blade. Because of the heel-and-toe locking feature, both legs of the shackle must be cut to remove the lock. When starting your cut, place the blade horizontally across both legs of the shackle and slowly increase the saw’s revolutions per minute (rpm) (photo 8). As the blade begins to cut a groove into the material, you can increase the speed of the saw to full rpm. Once the shackle has been severed, you can remove the pin and raise the gate.
Another very common high-security lock is the American Series 2000 “hockey puck” lock (photo 9). The Series 2000 is a case-hardened, 27⁄8-inch-diameter, solid steel lock that has a hardened pin that passes through the body of the lock (photo 10). On the back of the lock there is a cavity that allows the lock to slide over the staple on the gate and engage the locking pin (photo 11). It is quite common to see these locks affixed to a shield for added security. The shield is also constructed of case-hardened steel and is equipped with a three-inch × ½-inch rod that passes through the channel rail and the slat on the gate (photo 12).
The quickest and most reliable way to defeat this lock is to cut it with a rotary saw equipped with an aluminum oxide blade. The procedure for cutting the hockey puck is the same regardless of whether a shield is present or not. If the lock is equipped with a shield, you simply cut the shield as you cut the lock. You first want to identify the location of the key way at the base of the lock. The location of the key way is going to depend on the position of the staple attached to the rail on the gate. If the staple is in the horizontal position, the key way will likely be located at the six o’clock position. If the staple is in the vertical position, the key way would be found at either the three or nine o’clock position.
Place the blade of the saw on the face of the lock two-thirds of the way up from the key way to start your cut (photos 13 and 14). At this position, as the blade cuts through the face of the lock, it will enter the cavity and sever the locking pin. Slowly increase your rpm until you create a groove on the face of the lock, then increase to full rpm to completely cut the lock and sever the pin. Once the lock has been completely severed, you can remove the pin and raise the gate.
Some other common locks with interesting features are the discus lock and the American Series 747. The discus lock is a 2¾-inch shrouded disc padlock with an octagonal boron-carbide shackle (photo 15). The American Series 747 is a 2½-inch solid steel padlock with a 7⁄16-inch boron shrouded shackle (photo 16). The shrouding makes these locks extremely difficult to cut in a traditional manner because only a small portion of the boron shackle is accessible when the lock is engaged on a gate.
The quickest and most reliable way to cut these locks is to make a single cut that passes through the lock body and severs the shackle. Place your saw blade about one-third of the way down from the top of the lock and begin your cut (photos 17 and 18). Begin slowly and increase your rpm as the blade cuts into the lock. Bring the saw to full rpm and completely sever the lock and shackle. Once cut, remove the remaining piece of the shackle from the pin and staple and raise the gate.
Response District Education
These are but a few of the numerous locking devices commercially available and in use on roll-down security gates. There are literally hundreds of locks made by various manufacturers that you may encounter in your area. The majority of these locks can be classified as high security, each with specific nuances unique to their design, which make them more challenging to force using conventional methods.
It is imperative that firefighters are aware of the challenges that exist in their response districts. Conducting a field survey to identify the various locks in use on commercial occupancies, understanding their design features and how they function, and developing a plan on how to defeat them will lead to effective entry in a timely manner.
The next installment will cover attacking the gate on commercial occupancies. I will explain the determining factors associated with this operation and explain the various techniques used to cut the different style gates.