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What if I live alone and cannot unlock the door during an emergency? What can I do to enable 911 responders to enter my residence without tearing down the door?

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    You should discuss this with your local police department. The general information you get here may not be relevant. This isn't really a home improvement question anyway. – isherwood Feb 4 at 13:45
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    Even if you do set this up, there's still a good chance they will knock down the door. If it's truly an emergency, they are 1. probably not going to waste time looking up whether there's a key they should use 2. or waste time fumbling with multiple keys and/or key codes. If you are calling 911, your door should be the least of your worries. – JimmyJames Feb 4 at 16:14
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    @JimmyJames Depends on the emergency. If your house is on fire, saving a door is kinda pointless, but EMS may not have the tools (or legal authority) to knock a door down (not every town sends Fire Medics out for medical calls) – Machavity Feb 4 at 17:12
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    @JimmyJames If you have security door they might not have any choice. My point is that if you give them an option to gain entry that just involves opening a box and unlocking a door, most first responders would prefer that. – Machavity Feb 4 at 17:17
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    Understand that any soloution to this will almost certainly involve sacrificing security. Master keys can be illicitly obtained and combination lockboxes can generally be picked pretty easilly. – Peter Green Feb 4 at 17:55

11 Answers 11

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Call your local police department and inquire about a "Knox Box Key". They probably have a master already to open one. You will need to buy the one they suggest or have a locksmith get involved to match their key to the box you purchase. They might even have a system set up for your community that you don't know about.

enter image description here

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Please do not add additional comments here and instead carry on the dialog in the chat room. – Michael Karas Feb 7 at 10:32
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The least expensive solution here is to buy a combo lock key box. You place a key to your home inside, put the box somewhere accessible outside and, if you call 911, you simply provide them the location and code. Just be sure to reset the code between uses.

Alternatively you could buy a door lock with a keypad (example) but this route is far more expensive.

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    If you are verbal with emergency services, you could simply tell them where the spare key is or to knock down the door. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Feb 4 at 19:00
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    Depending on your circumstances, it may be hard to securely hide a spare key (and you always run the risk of it being found). – Adrian Zhang Feb 5 at 6:05
  • Word of warning: a multi-dial combination lock (like the one linked) is fairly easy and quick to crack with a small tool. The fact that you're degrading you front door's security to the level of the lock-box goes with any type of lock, though. – Haem Feb 6 at 13:47
  • @Harper two issues with that; security through obscurity alone is not security, and the goal of the question is to avoid having emergency services knock down a door in the first place. – TylerH Feb 8 at 14:12
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My mother lives alone and is in a wheelchair so she has limited mobility. She has a number code door control and local EMS has the code on file. She also has a "I've fallen and I can't get up!" service and they have a record of the code as well.

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One option is to buy a 'smart lock' that gives you the ability to unlock the door from device such as smart phone or tablet. If you carry a smartphone around, this might be a viable option.

I feel obligated to note, however, that products in the 'internet of things' (IOT) space have notoriously poor software security practices. For example, a lot of internet enabled security cameras have well-known and unchangeable passwords. You would hope that a lock would be secured against simple hacks. Caveat emptor: look into whether anyone has done any evaluation of the security of such products.

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    RE: the low security, yup IOT security sucks, but in this case it does not suck much more than the alternatives. Knox boxes are trivial to open if you know how and combo key lockers were known as the worst security hole on the market until IOT locks came along. – hildred Feb 4 at 18:19
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    I certainly agree that consumers should demand better security, but so should voters. For example in New York City the fire department keys for knox boxes, elevators, are required by law to be insecure. And this is typical of most jurisdictions. A security expert with less than a dozen common keys can get into most business and high rise apartments. If you want to know more search youtube for deviant olam defcon. – hildred Feb 4 at 18:34
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    @hildred I think we are in violent agreement. – JimmyJames Feb 4 at 18:36
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    @JimmyJames to comp vasin above, imagine if the apartment complex you lived had three different locks and an 8-digit pin code on the front door, and they were changed every four weeks. You'd find the door propped open every time you came home - hell, I already see this with just one lock that's only locked at night. – user89255 Feb 5 at 8:53
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This kind of thing comes up often in regards to security (well in my IT security experience at least). You want to make something easy to break into access for the good folks, without making it easy for the bad folks. This is hard!

Some of the other answers suggested lock boxes with a master key or number combo.

These are not very good.

In an emergency do you want someone mucking about, trying to get the right key or number combo?

Or if it is a well known key, well then sooner or later some bad person will work that out and take advantage of it.

No harm checking with local good folks if they have a well established way of dealing with lock numbers. And if they would use it for their grand mother house.

That way you can see if they trust in that system!, and if it is worth doing!

However what I think you should do is:

Replace the door strike plate screws with short ones (say 10mm, 1/3inch ish) Cheap and simple! However do keep the chain lock screws long and strong!

That way if good folks need to break in, well you will get minimal damage.

But what about the bad folks wanting to kick down the door you say!

Well an opportunist can't tell the screws are short, and bad folks who are going to kick down your door were going to do that (or the window) anyway.

So may as well make it easy for them, less damage to repair! To protect against them you would need to live in a house that resembled a prison cell. Bad Feng Shui, is all I can say.

  • I like the thought process behind this answer. An alarmed door would limit the amount of time a bad actor would have to cause problems. – gatorback Feb 6 at 10:27
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At our home town, the Police, Fire, and EMT have a program that address this. At one's descretion, a home owner can leave a copy of the door key and/or PIN code, secured at the station, andt used in an emergency. No waiting for beaking doors or windows.

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    That sounds like a great system and it sounds like you live in a small town with 1 police station and 1 fire station. Unfortunately, even a moderately sized town will have more than one and there's no guarantee that someone from the local station will be the one responding to your house. Do they have a solution in place to deal with this? – FreeMan Feb 5 at 13:52
  • Given that just about every 911 operator has access to an IT system to record information, it would make sense for the IT system to provide address specific and phone number specific information – gatorback Feb 6 at 10:44
  • I am in a rural area, and with a police call, the sheriff or the state police might respond. With an EMS call the local fire department, or a nearby fire department or an ambulance service from the city (25 miles away) might respond. There are not a lot of good options. Some people leave a neighbor's number on the door or window nearby, and leave a key with the neighbor. My nearest neighbor is a half mile away. There are some product opportunities here! – mongo Feb 6 at 15:08
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Get a lock with a built-in electronic keypad.

Then if you ever have to call for an ambulance but can't get to the door, simply tell the dispatcher the code before the ambulance arrives. They will be able to relay it to the emergency responders, who will have no trouble opening the door.

Locks like this typically have keycodes that are 4–6 digits long and are quite easy to operate, unlike the lockboxes that hold a spare key. And once the emergency is over, you can easily change the code.

Here's an example:

enter image description here

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Depending on where you live, Smart911 can be a nice option. It is a free system where you can add medical information, access codes, pictures of your children, vehicle information, and other pertinent details that can save valuable time for first responders in emergency situations. (If the 911 answering service is set up with Smart911, they can relay this information to the first responders.) See: https://smart911.com/

Even if your area doesn't have this system set up, it can still be helpful in the event that you are traveling and have an emergency in an area where it is supported. (i.e. If my child goes missing, they can immediately see a picture on their screen when I call for help.)

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    I sure wouldn't put any non-public information on that website, the terms of use for the site specifically deny any liability for disclosure of information, and their database seems like a juicy target for hackers. I'd rather let EMS break down my door if they need to get in, which literally only takes a second, I saw the fire department break open a neighbors door with some sort of crowbar with a head sort of like an axe. – Johnny Feb 5 at 21:51
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    @Johnny: As a certified firefighter, I would say that the "crowbar" was probably a Halligan tool, having a long handle with a spike and a wedge arranged at one end, at right angles to each other and often a "can opener" or fork at the other end of the handle. The combination of that tool with an 8-lb flathead axe is often known as a "married set of irons" used for forcible entry. – Upnorth Feb 6 at 19:46
  • @Upnorth - yep, I looked it up and that does indeed look like the tool, works impressively well. They had a sledge hammer too, but didn't need to use it, the Halligan alone was sufficient. I offered to let them climb over my back fence to see if their back door was open, but the paramedics were already there and they apparently didn't want to waste the time to go get a ladder and maybe still not be able to get in. – Johnny Feb 6 at 20:04
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In my rural fire department you either give a key to the fire chief, who tags it and locks it inside the keybox of a response vehicle, or you give the alarm company (if you have one) or the chief the location or code (or both) for your spare key, or the contact info for your choice of a local "keyholder". Of course, almost nobody here locks their doors anyway, rendering it a moot point in the majority of cases. Obviously, if you're conscious when calling 911, you can also give instructions on which unlocked door to use or where the key is for the locks. Also, each engine has one or more sets of tools for making a forcible (but fairly graceful) entry when justified by the perceived risk of unnecessary delay.

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All the answers about lock boxes and such look great. But if you don't have some kind of medical condition where you expect it's likely you'll have an emergency at some point, and if you live in the US, I wouldn't worry about it. As far as I'm aware typically the fire department responds to all medical calls, and they will get in. You'll have to pay for door repairs, but you'll be alive to do it.

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Leave one of the windows unlocked

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