Wireless communication expands across Hanford

HANFORD — Hanford workers now can pull out a laptop nearly anywhere on the nuclear reservation to share information with co-workers, pick up a work order or make a time card entry.

It's a change from the previous system that had them driving back and forth to buildings hardwired for secure computer access in much of the 359 square miles of central Hanford and the Columbia River corridor, where environmental cleanup is being done.

With more than 3,000 new employees coming to Hanford because of federal economic stimulus money, Mission Support Alliance knew that providing increased service to the Hanford internal computer communication system was crucial, said Frank Armijo, president of Mission Support Alliance. The contractor provides information technology and other sitewide services at Hanford.

The new system uses Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access, or WiMAX, a wireless communication system that also has been used in disaster areas, including areas affected by the 2004 Indonesia tsunami.

In the old system for much of Hanford, trenches would have had to be dug to new work areas at the site for fiber-optic cables. For one remote building near the Columbia River that would have cost around $300,000, but the new communication system was able to provide communication service for $17,000, according to Mission Support Alliance.

With plans to finish cleanup of Hanford along the Columbia River by 2015, "it does not make sense to dig trenches and lay fiberoptic out to a site that will close soon," said Jeffrey Dennison, spokesman for Mission Support Alliance.

Over several years $1.8 million has been spent for the infrastructure for the new or expanded communications system. Savings from not having to trench and lay cable over the past two years have about equaled that amount, according to Mission Support Alliance.

Less digging also means less damage to Hanford shrub steppe land and possible disturbance of areas that might have artifacts or cultural significance to Native American tribes.

Five towers provide coverage to all but a few pockets of central Hanford and the Columbia River corridor.

"The time freed up from no longer having to travel across site to communicate now allows workers to conduct their work much more quickly, efficiently and, most importantly, safely," said Justin Benoit, director of infrastructure for Mission Support Alliance.

w Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; more Hanford news at hanfordnews.com.