MSHA's Main Calls New Mine Emergency Tools 'Game Changers'

New communications and mapping systems will help rescue teams find trapped or injured miners faster. They were demonstrated April 8 during an emergency drill at a Pennsylvania coal mine, Administrator Joe Main reported

Mine rescue teams responding in an emergency will be able to find trapped or injured miners faster, thanks to new communications and mapping systems that have been developed. The tools were demonstrated April 8 during an emergency drill at a Pennsylvania coal mine and are "game changers," MSHA Administrator Joe Main reported on his agency's website.

He said the systems were developed in response to a 2010 initiative he launched to identify and then fix gas in mine emergency response and mine rescue readiness, following the Sago, Aracoma, and Darby coal mine fires and explosions in 2006, the Crandall Canyon coal mine accident in 2007, and the Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion in 2010. MSHA has been working during the past five years with mine rescue teams and trainers and representatives of industry, labor, and other government agencies to organize mine rescue summits and stage mine emergency exercises, he wrote, adding that these significant advances in mine rescue have been achieved:

  • Technology allows for direct communication between the advancing mine rescue teams and the command center, and backup rescue teams standing by at a fresh air base are kept in the loop with real-time information. "Previously, messages were passed from person to person and team to team, creating an inherent risk of miscommunication. This is a real game changer in mine rescue," Main wrote.
  • Mapping technology allows the command center and other rescuers to watch the progress of the advancing rescue team in real time.
  • New atmospheric monitoring technology features sensors that can be left at locations in the mine as rescuers move forward or must retreat. The monitors continue sending air quality information to the command center.
  • Upgraded MSHA command centers will manage the new information streams and quickly relay critical information to others coordinating the emergency response.

The April 8 demonstration was a mine rescue simulation at the Harvey Mine, owned by Consol Energy Inc. It involved MSHA's mine emergency unit and rescue team, Consol Energy's eight rescue teams, the state of Pennsylvania's Department of Deep Mine Safety, and the Pennsylvania Special Medical Response Team in drills that featured injured miners and smoke-filled tunnels, Main wrote.

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