Air Force 24-Hour Fitness Test Shows Early Momentum

Three months into a yearlong test of 24-hour fitness facilities for the Air Force, early reception appears positive, but officials will collect data on the six test facilities through December 2013 to determine their feasibility.

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Three months into a yearlong test of 24-hour fitness facilities for the Air Force, early reception appears positive, but officials will collect data on the six test facilities through December 2013 to determine their feasibility.

The test is part of the Air Force Services Transformation Initiative, a program that examines the needs of Air Force personnel and seeks to tailor programs to match those needs.

Participating bases include Joint Base Andrews, Washington, D.C., Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., Scott Air Force Base, Ill., Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., and Warren Air Force Base, Wyo.

In March, the first month all six locations were open 24 hours, the facilities drew 8,500 after-hour visits, with 6,800 individuals registered, according to Capt. Matthew Dunn, the Air Force Personnel Center's deputy chief of services transformation.

"We've had a lot of requests to offer fitness around the clock, but there's been no way to capture what the true demand would be," Dunn says. "So by testing this, we're going to get to see what usage is at six different bases, with six different operational tempos, to see what the need is in the field."

The test entails more than simply opening the doors around the clock. The facilities are unmanned after hours, so each is outfitted with a secure entry access system. Each facility also has recorded surveillance capability. The cost for additional security systems runs around $30,000 per facility, according to Dunn. He also notes that additional security measures include ensuring the facilities have defibrillators on hand as well as emergency response procedures for safety and medial officials to enter the facility if necessary.

"The installation commander also conducted operational risk management to determine what areas of the fitness center they would allow open, as well as who they would allow to use it," Dunn says of each facility. He adds that access varies per test facility. For example, some facilities have larger civilian contractor populations to accommodate, while others cater to primarily full-time active military personnel. But access is up to the individual installation commander.

All eligible users must sign a statement of understanding, which outlines rules and eligibility for after-hours workouts.

Margaret Treland, chief of Air Force Fitness and Sports, notes that looking at monthly metrics from the test will determine the Air Force's next steps.

"If this is something that we find that, yes, it's a good program, it's something that we need, … then [we'll] look at the opportunity to deploy at other installations."

While the Air Force initiated the test in December 2012, some glitches in the newly installed access systems weren't ironed out until March. But new card readers installed at all test facilities fixed the problem.

As for the impact on facility personnel, Treland notes that they haven't received any negative feedback. Staffing is not an issue, as the facilities are unmanned after hours, but a few other issues could have a minor impact.

"I would say that there's a little more work on the staff just in terms of maintaining," Treland says. "One of the things that they [are] probably a little more strict on [is] their opening and closing checklists … making sure that everything is accounted for at the beginning and at the end of the day."

According to Dunn, two primary factors ultimately will determine the success of the test program: "The goal is to have high usage and limited-to-no safety incidents."

Treland notes that for the month of March, the first with all locations operational, there were no reported safety incidents.

"Basically we're doing this so that we're meeting the needs of the shift workers and the people with crazy schedules and to provide them that same type of service that they would find [with commercial facilities]," she says.

While eight months remain in the test period, Dunn is optimistic about early feedback from March.

"Three of the bases were operational all month, and three of the bases didn't become operational until the middle of the month," he says. "We still had over 8,500 people use the facilities after hours, so we're pretty impressed with that number."

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