Fail Secure vs. Fail Safe: Decoding Electronic Locks

In the realm of electronic locks, terms like “fail-safe” and “fail-secure” can be perplexing. This guide aims to demystify these concepts, empowering you to make an informed decision when selecting electronic locks for your space. Let’s delve into the intricacies of fail-secure vs. fail-safe, unraveling the mystery for enhanced security.

Understanding the Terminology

The terms “fail-safe” and “fail-secure” may seem counterintuitive initially. Shouldn’t a lock inherently be both safe and secure? Let’s dissect these concepts, exploring the nuances that distinguish these two crucial aspects of electronic locks.

Fail-Safe Locks

What is a Fail-Safe Electronic Lock?

A fail-safe lock, also known as fail-unlocked, operates on the principle of being locked while electricity flows and unlocked in its absence. This design ensures that in the event of a power failure, individuals inside a space can exit freely, prioritizing safety over security.

Types of Fail-Safe Locks:

  1. Motor-Activated Deadbolts:
    • Found in residential settings, these locks use tiny motors to activate deadbolts. The deadbolt extends into the door jamb only when the motor is running, retracting during a power outage.
  2. Electromagnetic Locks:
    • Utilizing magnetic fields generated by electricity, these locks secure the door by creating a magnetic bond. In a power outage, the magnetic force dissipates, unlocking the door.
  3. Electric Strike Locks:
    • Featuring mechanisms that grasp the door’s latch when locked, electric strike locks can be fail-safe or fail-secure. In fail-safe strikes, electricity is necessary to hold the latch.

When to Use Fail-Safe Locks

Fail-safe locks are ideal when safety takes precedence over security. Consider these scenarios:

  • Emergency Exit Doors: Fail-safe locks ensure people can exit a building during power outages, making them suitable for emergency exits.
  • Easy Access Requirements: Areas requiring easy access, like spaces storing food or medicine, are suitable for fail-safe locks.
  • Residential Use: For residential buildings, fail-safe locks may be considered if immediate evacuation routes are available during a power failure.

Pro Tip: While fail-safe locks enhance safety, their use in securing valuables or restricting access to critical items may be counterproductive.

Fail-Secure Locks

What is a Fail-Secure Electronic Lock?

Contrary to fail-safe locks, fail-secure locks, or fail-locked, remain in a locked state even without electrical power. These locks prioritize security over immediate access, making them suitable for scenarios where safeguarding valuables is paramount.

Types of Fail-Secure Locks:

  1. Motor-Activated Deadbolts:
    • In this configuration, the deadbolt is engaged by the motor when electricity is present. In a power outage, the deadbolt reverts to its locked position.
  2. Electric Strike Locks:
    • Fail-secure electric strikes maintain a locked state without continuous power. The mechanism holds onto the door’s latch, ensuring security.
  3. Electromagnetic Locks:
    • Electromagnetic locks inherently require electricity to maintain a locked state. In case of a power failure, these locks will unlock.

When to Use Fail-Secure Locks

Fail-secure locks are the preferred choice when security is paramount, even in the absence of electrical power. Consider these scenarios:

  • Valuables Storage: Safes, storage rooms, and areas housing valuable items benefit from fail-secure locks, deterring unauthorized access.
  • Money Handling Locations: Businesses dealing with cash or important documents should opt for fail-secure locks to maintain security during power outages.
  • Limited Access Areas: Any space where people are unlikely to get trapped behind locked doors and where continuous security is crucial is suitable for fail-secure locks.

Pro Tip: Avoid using fail-secure locks in contexts where safety concerns might arise, such as emergency exits or areas with potential power-related risks.

Fail-Secure vs. Fail-Safe: Making the Right Choice

After exploring the characteristics of fail-secure and fail-safe locks, the question remains: which is better? The truth is, one isn’t superior to the other; they serve different purposes. To make the right choice, consider two key questions:

  1. Is the Lock Protecting People?
    • If the lock is guarding an exit where people might need to unlock it in an emergency, fail-safe locks are a suitable choice.
  2. Is the Lock Protecting Vital Items?
    • For locks securing valuables, fail-secure locks provide an added layer of security, especially in scenarios where immediate access isn’t critical.

General Rule of Thumb:

  • Entrance and Exit Doors:
    • Use fail-safe locks for doors, ensuring safe evacuation during emergencies.
  • Safes and Storage Rooms:
    • Opt for fail-secure locks to enhance security for valuables and important items.


Choosing between fail-secure and fail-safe locks requires careful consideration of your specific needs. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, and the optimal solution often involves a layered approach to security. By understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each type, you can tailor your electronic lock choices for enhanced protection. For expert guidance and top-notch security solutions, trust 1st Choice Locksmith to secure what matters most to you.


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