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“My maglock isn’t working anymore.” I can’t count how often I’ve heard that one. 99 times out of 100, it’s for one reason only.

First, what’s a maglock?

A lot of fancy offices and some communal entrance doors have electromagnets fitted instead of traditional key locks. Maglock These magnets (pictured right) can withstand hundreds of kilos of force, and are altogether quite an effective method of locking a door.

They come at a price, though: they only work when there’s power. As soon as there’s a power cut, the door is permanently open.

Now, since there’s no key or knob to turn to open up, you need special means of unlocking. On the outside, you might have a fob reader or an electric keypad. On the inside, you have to have two things:

  • Request-to-exit button: This is a switch that will temporarily cut the power to the magnet, enabling you to open the door. After a set time, e.g. five seconds, power will resume.
  • Emergency break-glass box (right): Break glass boxThis box looks like those red fire alarm boxes, except these ones are green. They’re there so that, if there is an emergency, you can permanently cut off the power. That way, anyone fleeing the building can simply open the door without pushing any button. This box is a legal requirement.

So why isn’t my maglock working?

It’s always the same story: someone has pushed the break-glass box, so the power is permanently off.

This is especially common in locations where a lot of strangers go in and out, e.g. a block of flats. You might be having guests for dinner. When they leave to go home, they might not be able to see the proper exit button and, in their uncertainty, they push the emergency break-glass box instead.

And what’s the solution?

The first part of the solution is to restore power to the electromagnets. A locksmith can do this using a special tool that enables him to reset the box. (Nowadays the boxes don’t have any real glass in them, usually, so there’s no broken glass to replace.)

But restoring the power may not be enough. Many property managers find that people constantly press the emergency box. So how do you prevent people from pushing the emergency box?

You can’t get rid of the box, of course, but you can try these things:

  • Make the correct exit button more obvious: In all likelihood, the emergency button, in its regulation green colour, stands out more than the proper exit button. So add a sign or do something to make the correct button more obvious.
  • Add a ‘think-twice’ cover to the box: You may have seen break-glass boxes with flaps over them at airports and train stations. These prevent you from leaning against them by mistake, but they also cause people to think twice before pressing the button.

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