HAMMER quietly making world safer for 15 years

The 15th anniversary celebration for the Department of Energy's Volpentest HAMMER Training Center said a lot about this world-class facility.

Highlighting the festivities was the dedication of the new Field Exercise Building, funded by the U.S. State Department.

Almost before the applause died down, instructors were putting this much-needed addition to HAMMER's training opportunities to good use.

Within minutes of the dedication ceremony, students from the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine were learning to intercept radioactive contraband at border crossings as part of the inaugural class.

That's what HAMMER does day in and day out -- provide firefighters, police, border guards and other first responders with the skills to make this dangerous world safer.

It just makes sense that HAMMER officials were eager to put this latest tool to immediate use. The new building will support international border security and law enforcement training for the State Department, the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.

There is no telling "how many lives will be saved by what takes place in this building," said Walter Wise, general president of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers.

HAMMER has the support of 10 international unions because it reaches across the world to protect workers, the environment and the public, Wise told Herald senior reporter Annette Cary.

While the building's dedication attracted some media attention, most of HAMMER's contributions to a safer world often go unnoticed.

Despite the usual low profile, the facility is fulfilling its mission in a big way.

In the past 15 years, HAMMER has provided 600,000 student days of training on its Hanford campus near Richland.

That includes providing international border security and law enforcement training to more than 2,000 visitors from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and 67 countries.

The goal is to prevent terrorist attacks or other assaults on civilian populations from occurring in the first place, but HAMMER also prepares public servants to deal with the unthinkable, should it occur.

HAMMER's motto is, "As real as it gets," with workers training to respond to emergencies by using life-size props to simulate real-world threats.

They practice maneuvering through smoke-filled buildings, responding to a booby-trapped terrorist's refuge, investigating crime scenes and identifying poisons.

Training scenarios can unfold at a tower, burning building, search and rescue building, collapsed structure and rubble pile, port-of-entry building, an overturned tanker trailer, high-risk electrical props, rail tank cars and confined spaces.

HAMMER's existence means less human suffering. It's hard to find a better justification.

But there's one more thing we like about the facility. It brings people from around the world to the Tri-Cities and exposes them to some of the capabilities of our world-class work force.

It pales in comparison to preventing a terrorist attack, but it's still a significant benefit to our community.

Happy anniversary, HAMMER.