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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Dorm room keys for single airmen here are going magnetic.

In an effort to beef up security, the base is converting rooms in all 10 Air Force dormitories to key-card access, a project scheduled to wrap up this week.

Force-protection funds were used to replace the traditional lock-and-key with magnetic cards because the system makes the dorms more secure, base officials said.

The doors lock automatically when shut. And the electronic card readers record the time at which a card was used to enter a room. The automatic-locking feature should help improve residents’ security, base officials said, and the cards could help track residents’ whereabouts.

“If you do lose a key, the keys aren’t marked,” said Staff Sgt. John Saunders, Air Force dorm manager. “Once we issue a new key, the system blocks the key that they lost.”

The base has issued about 1,300 key cards to date, including to replace lost and defunct ones.

The conversion is not Air Force- driven, though other bases have dormitories with similar systems, said housing flight chief Jim Carey.

The conversion hasn’t been seamless: On the first weekend the key cards were activated, 45 cards had to be replaced because airmen either left their cards in their rooms or elsewhere and were locked out, Saunders said.

“Most people told me they were used to leaving their doors unlocked and leaving,” Saunders said.

Carey said it’s much cheaper to replace a card than a key: “If someone loses a key, we have to replace the lock” for security reasons.

Airmen still are getting used to the change.

“I guess it’s probably a lot more secure but you get locked out a lot more and sometimes the cards don’t work,” said Airman 1st Class Kevin Downey, a vehicle maintainer on temporary bay orderly duty.

Airman Basic Meagan Newman, brand new to the Air Force, said the cards are easy to use.

Airmen who get locked out are instructed to call their first sergeant or bay chief, who are to make a new key. First sergeants or floor managers also hold a master key.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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