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Austin's emergency master key system 'compromised,' will cost nearly $2M to replace

Anthony Kavanaugh, 28, is accused of using the stolen master key to break into at least three buildings. (Photo courtesy: Austin Police Department)

AUSTIN, Texas (KEYE) - A master key system used by emergency personnel with the City of Austin was "compromised" recently, according to a memo from the city, and will need to be replaced.

Anthony Kavanaugh, 28, is accused of using the stolen master key to break into at least three buildings.

The key, which is found in each emergency vehicle in Austin and Travis County has access to more than 6,000 buildings in the area.

According to court documents, Kavanaugh broke into the cashier's office at Dell Children's Medical Center and stole more than $31,000 back in September. An employee at the hospital recognized him.

Manor Police say he also broke into Fast Med Urgent Care in November and got away with a small amount of cash.

Court documents also state that Kavanaugh broke into Clicks Billiards on E. Oltorf Street in Austin and was found to be in possession of a "Knox-Box" key.

The Knox-Box system is required by city code and consists of lockboxes placed on the exterior of high-occupancy and commercial buildings. They provide access to first responders through master keys located in each fire and emergency response vehicle in Travis County. The cost to replace and update the system is estimated at a total of $1.8 million.

Joey Lachausse, a certified locksmith at Advance Lock Solutions in Austin, says the stolen key is extremely difficult to replicate.

"If you are not on the signature form and have ordered those directly from the factory, you're not going to get a key. You couldn't take that key anywhere and go get a duplicate," Lachausse said. "You have to start out with a key blank, and the key blank [Knox-Box] uses is highly restricted."

The Austin Fire Department says phase one of the replacement will involve replacing the master keys in the vehicles and the lock cylinders on all Knox Boxes at over 6,000 buildings across the city of Austin.

Phase one is expected to take several months and cost $300,000.

For their security, building owners have the option to have their keys or access cards returned to them during the re-keying process.

AFD says phase two of the project, which is being planned for 2019 or 2020, will involve replacing the key retention equipment on emergency vehicles to upgrade them with wireless capabilities.

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