Although a simple locking cabinet can secure your valuable papers from prying eyes, it will do little to protect them from theft or damage from fire. Safes provide an extra level of protection for documents, computer data and other items that your company would be hard pressed to duplicate if lost.
This guide is designed to give you the facts you need to buy a safe for your business. The various sections are listed in the box above. You can choose to read this guide from beginning to end, or jump directly to a section of interest.
Safes offer varying levels of fire and burglar resistance. The Underwriters Laboratory (UL) tests and labels safes and locks for their level of heat resistance and durability.
To test safes for theft resistance, the UL subjects them to picks and blow torches. The UL uses the TL15 and TL30 designations to indicate safes that withstand 15 and 30 minutes of drilling, respectively.
The UL also tests safes to see how secure they are in a fire. Testers heat safes in a furnace for half an hour or more to see how the contents fare. Safes that pass this test can maintain an interior temperature of less than 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Designated record safes, these models will protect paper documents from 1700 degrees Fahrenheit heat for up to four hours.
You may also want to see how a safe will fare if it is dropped. In a fire, a safe may fall through the floor, break open, and spill the contents you are seeking to protect. The UL also indicates whether a safe can survive a 30-foot impact, which simulates a fall of three stories.
Since safes are a long-term investment, it is important to get a sense for what you will need to protect, both now and in the future, before you choose a model.
Make sure to consider both the internal and the external dimensions. You want to make sure that the safe will fit into its designated space, but you also want enough internal space to store your valuables. It can be helpful to have the measurements of the largest item you will place in the safe to get a sense for the minimum dimensions you can accept.
Keep in mind that a larger safe does not necessarily insure greater security. Although large safes can not be removed as easily by a burglar, they also cannot be removed by you in case of fire.
Media safes are designed to protect disks and other audio/visual equipment such as video and cassette tapes from fire. These materials have special requirements because they are more fragile than paper documents. Diskettes, for example, can be ruined at temperatures far below the 350º F maximum specified for papers. Diskettes also require humidity below a certain level.
Due to these requirements, media safes tend to be very expensive, easily costing thousands of dollars. In most cases, a more cost-effective approach is to purchase a separate media chest or media drawer for computer disks. If stored in a fireproof file cabinet or safe, this container will provide adequate protection for only $100 to $350.
Installing A Safe
For the greatest level of security, safes should be installed into the wall or the floor. Installation charges will vary according to what is underneath the safe. If placed in concrete, the safes will not only be highly burglar resistant but will also be beyond the reach of most fires. Unfortunately, installation in these cases can be quite costly, often exceeding $600.
A less expensive solution is to bolt a safe to the floor. However, this does not provide any extra protection from fire.
Most low-end safes come with old-fashioned combination locks or a key lock. These are not particularly effective against an experienced burglar, but cost less than $100.
For those requiring greater security, the UL has approved electronic and digital locks that cost up to $350. Some are X-ray- and manipulation-proof, making the codes nearly impossible to crack. Other safes can be accessed only by swiping your credit card. You can even attach an electronic control device that regulates the times when a safe can be opened.
For additional protection, a drill-resistant hard plate can be placed over the lock and a steel bar along the interior to prevent the door from being removed.
There are three factors that affect the cost of a safe: size, resistance, and the type of lock. A small fireproof money chest will cost less than $100. On the other end, a large record safe, capable of resisting a four-hour fire, can cost nearly $7,000.