MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho --
Since December of 2015, building 2412 has been the test location for a new base initiative to install security cameras in public areas across the dormitories. These cameras, which are planned to eventually be installed in every dormitory building on base, are meant to be the first step towards several initiatives to improve the quality of life for Gunfighter Airmen.
“The discussion has been going on for as long as I can remember, about potentially installing cameras in dorms,” said Nathan Rowland, 366th Civil Engineer Squadron deputy base civil engineer. “Obviously we want to balance respect for people’s privacy in their living areas on one hand, and on the other hand, looking out for the people as a group, because when there are mishaps in the dorms, the dorm residents suffer.”
Property damage and theft are the most common types of misconduct that happen in the dorms and are issues the Airmen Dorm Leader office and other agencies are routinely familiar with.
“We’ve had a shuffleboard damaged, the ends were broken out… we’ve had pictures that have been broken, glass frames…a couple holes in the walls, holes in ceiling tile, that kind of damage,” said Tom Wohosky, unaccompanied housing superintendent. “They were pretty frequent.”
The cameras are only installed in public areas of the dorms, such as stairwells, hallways, laundry rooms, day-rooms and entryways. While not every person is enthusiastic about the new system, it’s hard to refute the many positive effects coming from these changes.
“We’ve had zero incidents,” Wohosky said. “It’s really aided as a huge deterrent on any happenings or misconduct.”
Wohosky explained that one noticeable benefit since the installation of the dorm cameras is the extended hours of access to the dorm storage areas. Previously only open during duty hours on the weekdays when dorm personnel could monitor the area for security, the area is now open 24/7 to all dorm residents.
“One of my bay orderlies brings in this brand new game. [An airman] came into the dormitory and dropped it on the sidewalk,” Wohosky said, pointing to the still unopened video game sitting on his desk. “All I need is to go back to that location and try to identify the person. It helps, even for small things, to return a piece of property.”
Contrary to the rumor mill, the camera feeds will be recorded and reviewed as needed to investigate unauthorized activities in the dormitories, not viewed all the time, which will help save both time and money when it comes to investigating issues that do happen in the dorms.
“I see the investigative process being expedited because of it…rather than wasting [investigators] time trying to investigate and question people,” said Master Sgt. Daniel Powers, 366th Fighter Wing Staff first sergeant. “I think there’s going to be time and money saved in terms of man-hours put in.”
First sergeants are routinely involved in matters concerning the airmen and the dorms, often working in conjunction with Security Forces and the dorm leaders to hold people accountable for any misconduct that occurs. To the first sergeants, at least, the dorm cameras are a welcome introduction.
“I think it’s a good idea, it’s a matter of safety and accountability,” Powers said. “It has nothing to do with ‘big brother’ or the government watching…At the root of it, it’s all about the health and welfare of the people that are residing there.”
“The goal is that if something happens, we can figure out what happened. If something happens after hours, or when nobody’s on the premises from our leadership team, we can look at the recordings and find out what happened,” Rowland said. “If there’s misconduct going on, then we can hand that information off to law enforcement or the chain of command.”
With a safer, cleaner environment and a decrease in dorm property damage, the Civil Engineer Squadron and the Airmen Dorm Leader office is also hoping to be able to install higher-quality amenities for the residents. While the facility improvements are small right now, CES is hoping to have a more ambitious upgrade plan in place for when all the dorms have completed the camera upgrade. Wohosky explained that it boils down to funding and that once all the dorms have cameras, it’ll be easier to have a larger scope of the renovations that they can do.
“Cameras are really going to allow us to upgrade the quality of life, activities that they can do,” Wohosky said.
Despite the differing opinions around base, this isn’t a new concept. Mountain Home AFB is just one of many Air Force bases around the world to install cameras in the dorms, with bases like Peterson AFB, Barksdale AFB and Osan AB already operating full-fledged systems. Pending funding availability, CES is hoping to have cameras installed in all the dorms on base in the near future.
“We’re so pleased with the results, we definitely want to pick up all the dorms,” Rowland said. “We just want to make the dorms safer for everybody.”