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Mining Program Area: Communications and Tracking


The Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act (MINER Act) requires mines to have wireless communications and electronic tracking systems in underground coal mines. The intent is to provide communications and location information between surface personnel and underground workers. The systems should be survivable and remain operational following a disaster to aid in self-escape and rescue operations.

As a result of the MINER Act, all underground coal mines now have some form of wireless communications and tracking (CT) systems installed. Because every radio has a limited transmission range, all CT technologies require some amount of underground infrastructure to transfer messages and information between the surface and underground. The CT equipment manufacturers have extensive knowledge about the capabilities of their equipment, especially when used on the surface, but much less knowledge about the impact of the mine environment on the performance of that equipment.

Radio signal propagation underground is very different than propagation on the surface. The mine environment plays a major role limiting the number of methods in which radio signals can propagate. At conventional cell phone frequencies, propagation is through the air, but the mine tunnels can act as a radio frequency (RF) guide for the signals. At lower frequencies, RF signals couple onto conductors within the entries, such as water pipes, power lines, trailing cables, pager phone wires, etc. At the lowest frequencies, it is possible to propagate RF signals directly through the overburden. OMSHR is investigating each of these three propagation mechanisms, categorized as ultra-high frequency (UHF), medium frequency (MF), and through-the-earth (TTE), respectively. Electronic tracking systems have similarities to the radio communications research, but some significant differences require tracking to have a separate research effort.

OMSHR will complete the RF propagation model development and validation in each of the three frequency bands. The propagation models will serve as inputs to a larger model that will quantitatively evaluate the survivability of the CT system and be able to perform “what if” evaluations of alternate CT technologies, installation configurations, and several disaster scenarios in a specific mine. Tracking research will identify systems with reduced infrastructure requirements that will likely increase survivability.


OMSHR has funded and continues to fund manufacturers to develop more advanced and potentially more survivable CT systems. OMSHR has assembled an experienced intramural CT research team supported by nationally recognized laboratories and universities and subject matter experts. The initial research focuses on developing computer models to predict radio signal attenuation and its dependency on geometric and electrical properties of the mine. The model predictions are validated by RF measurements performed in mines.

Survivability of CT systems is very dependent on the specific mine layout, the CT technology, the CT installation, and the type and extent of the disaster being considered. OMSHR is presently investigating methods to import a specific mine’s map and capture the three dimensional features of the entries. Eventually other software modules will permit configuring a CT system on the map and evaluating the impact of predefined disasters on the CT system performance. The results will be made available to CT manufacturers, mine owner/operators, regulators, and other stakeholders through publications, presentations, workshops, and OMSHR website materials.

Projects & Contracts

TitlePIsStart DateDescription
Assessing and Evaluating Human Systems Integration Needs in MiningJennica Bellanca10/1/2012A project to use a systems approach to characterize what information needs to be provided to mine workers, determine the timing and format of that information, and then use this information to develop alternatives to interfaces design.
Communications and Tracking Systems Modeling and PerformanceChenming Zhou10/1/2010A project to enhance the understanding of underground mining communication and tracking system performance through the development and validation of radio signal propagation models.
TitleContractorContract/IAG #Start DateDescription
Advanced Software Radio Techniques for Improved Range and Reliability of Digital Through-the-Earth Communication SystemsVital Alert Communications, Inc.200-2013-568099/9/2013A contract to develop an Advanced Software Radio (ASR) for through-the-earth communication with the intent of significantly improving realiability of TTE links in the working areas of coal mines and extending range.
Electromagnetic Noise Data Acquisition for the Evaluation of TTE Communications in Coal MinesVital Alert Communications, Inc.211-2014-590759/1/2014A contract to improve the performance of TTE radio systems intended for use in coal mine emergency communications between the mine and the surface.
Integration of Sensing Technologies for Post-Event Monitoring of Hazardous Conditions in the Mining EnvironmentSenSevere200-2014-592539/1/2014A contract to provide detection of ambient conditions in lesser traversed, remote areas of a mine by way of a repeater system with sensing modules capable of linking into the existing, hardened communications and tracking system.
Leaky Feeder Mine Communications SystemPillar Innovations LLC200-2007-200643/15/2007A contract to investigate techniques to increase the survivability of leaky feeder communication systems.
Low-Frequency Electromagnetic Noise Cancelling Antenna SystemLos Alamos National Laboratory11FED11133039/30/2011An interagency agreement to improve signal-to-noise in TTE receivers. The aim is to use existing transmitters that are not "intrinsically safe" to provide a reference signal from underground.
Through-the-Earth (TTE) Communications: Range Reliability ImprovementsLockheed Martin200-2013-561287/16/2013A contract to develop and test an enhanced magnetics-based communications waveform with increased ability to provide communications in the presence of ambient noise and interference in order to extend existing magnetics-based technologies.
Through-the-Earth Communication Antenna Feasibility DemonstrationRaytheon-UTD 200-2014-586889/1/2014A contract to develop new antenna configurations to improve performance and utility of through-the-earth (TTE) communications systems once deployed in underground coal mines.
TitleContractorContract/IAG #Start DateDescription
A Magnetic Communication System for Use in Mine EnvironmentsLockheed Martin Corporation 200-2007-228439/11/2007A contract to develop and demo a two-way, through-the-earth communication system for mines that applies state-of-the-art communications technologies to overcome subterranean wireless communication challenges while meeting industrial safety standards.
Application of Extreme Power Line Communication Methods to Mine EnvironmentsNorthern Microdesign, Inc.200-2010-360059/13/2010A contract to assess the suitability of current power line communication methods (used in nonmining applications) for underground coal mine communication, using mine electrical power distribution conductors as a system backbone.
Demonstration of Inertial Sensor Tracking and Communication SystemInSeT Systems, LLC200-2010-346878/30/2010A contract to complete a beta test installation of the contractor’s inertial sensor tracking and communication system in a working mine and demonstrate the accuracy, communication capability, and suitability for use in a working coal mine.
Design and Demonstration of a Location Tracking System for Underground Coal Mines (Award 1)Extreme Endeavors and Consulting200-2007-212497/25/2007A contract to develop a miner tracking system based on inertial navigation technology.
Design and Demonstration of a Location Tracking System for Underground Coal Mines (Award 2) L-3 Global Security & Engineering Solutions (now Engility Corporation)200-2007-212507/25/2007A contract to design and demonstrate a location tracking system for underground coal mines using ultra-wideband (UWB) radio technology.
Develop a Means to Model Network Performance Using Network Simulation Tools U.S. Department of Commerce, NIST08FEB8983452/15/2008An interagency agreement to develop modeling and simulation tools to evaluate the performance of underground mine wireless communications networks.
Development of a Uniform Methodology for Evaluating Coal Mine Tracking SystemsVirginia Polytechnic Institute200-2010-361409/30/2010A contract to develop and demonstrate a methodology for the uniform evaluation of tracking technologies in underground coal mines.
Development of a Wireless Test and Measurement Tool for Use in Mines Helium Networks 200-2008-24620C5/14/2008A contract to design, develop, and deliver a test and measurement tool based on a proof-of-concept model for mapping wireless coverage areas in underground coal mines.
Development of Guidelines for Safely Managing Electrical Equipment and Systems in Underground Mines During Mine Emergencies and Other Abnormal Circumstances Foster-Miller, Inc. (now QinetiQ North America)200-2008-265568/13/2008A contract to develop guidelines to enable workers to manage electrical equipment in a mine during an emergency.
Emergency Seismic Communication System for the Mining IndustryTeledyne Brown Engineering200-2009-290663/23/2009A contract to explore a new communication technology that re-uses undersea modem technology and concepts for seismic communication within the mining industry.
Feasibility Study: Vision-Aided Personal Inertial Tracking System for Mining Carnegie Mellon University200-2010-35935 9/8/2010A contract to evaluate the feasibility and utility of recent advances in personal navigation in a realistic mining setting. The project will conduct a field test in a realistic setting using existing equipment that has been adapted to the application.
Full-Wave Modeling of MF PropagationPennsylvania State University200-2010-363179/30/2010A contract to develop models of MF propagation in mines based on the results simulated through full-wave electromagnetic models.
Kutta OutCall Micropower Messaging System (KOMMS)Kutta Technologies200-2013-560508/12/2013A contract to create a signaling system, Kutta OutCall Micropower Messaging System (KOMMS), a mechanism of signaling between underground and the surface without the use of battery or line power.
Leaky Feeder to Wireless Media Converter Device Technology DevelopmentRajant Corporation200-2008-268158/14/2008A contract to develop and test a Media Converter Device (MCD) that allows wireless handheld radios to communicate with leaky feeder communication systems. This will greatly improve voice quality and underground communications coverage in cross-cuts.
Magnetic Communication System (MCS)Lockheed Martin Corporation200-2009-320219/10/2009A contract to enhance key features of the through-the-earth prototype previously developed to improve its usability, investigate design changes to comply with mine safety standards, ruggedize the hardware, and demonstrate performance at coal mine sites.
Magneto-Inductive TTE CommunicationsUltra Electronics Canada Defence, Inc.200-2009-312928/25/2009A contract to fabricate and test through-the-earth communication devices in an underground mine.
Medium Frequency Radio System Modifications for Refuge Chamber Situational AwarenessKutta Technologies200-2012-535049/20/2012A contract to modify medium frequency radio systems to improve refuge chamber situational awareness in an underground coal mine.
Mine Communications Engineering and Compatibility GuidelinesDISA Joint Spectrum Center08FED8983535/22/2007A contract to ensure that the limited useful spectrum is used efficiently, health and safety hazards are not introduced, and new systems do not interfere with each other or with older systems already in place.
Mine Escape Vehicle Concept InvestigationRaytheon UTD200-2008-248264/29/2008A contract to provide a design for a Mine Escape Vehicle to facilitate rapid escape of personnel from an underground mine in an emergency. The design for the vehicle will include components for vehicle platform, life support, navigation, and communication.
Mobile Adaptable RF/IT Infrastructure - Experimental (MATRIX) St. Francis University Center of Excellence for Remote and Medically Under-Served Areas200-2008-274449/1/2008A contract to test the efficacy of deploying a vehicular satellite communication system, augmented with rapidly deployable mesh networking nodes and other emerging telecommunications technologies, during mine rescue and other emergency events.
Passive Fiber Optic System for Locating, Tracking, and Communicating with Personnel in Coal Mines US Sensor Systems Inc.200-2008-245023/18/2008A contract to develop and demonstrate a modified, fiber optic-based perimeter security system to track personnel in an underground coal mine.
Performance and Safety Investigation of Emergency Backup Batteries and Battery Charging Systems for Underground Mining Applications Foster-Miller, Inc. (now QinetiQ North America)254-2008-270249/4/2008A contract to address issues associated with battery selection, use, and charging for the underground coal mining environment, specifically with respect to MINER Act requirements for mine communications and personnel tracking technology.
Post-Accident AMS SystemCONSPEC Controls Inc.200-2009-315029/1/2009A contract to develop a robust, intrinsically safe system that will incorporate atmospheric monitoring, two-way communications and miner tracking, all in a single network.
Practical Risk Assessment Guidelines for Identifying, Assessing, and Mitigating Stored Energy Hazards in Underground Coal Mines During and After a Mine Emergency URS Group Incorporated200-2009-313469/2/2009A contract to determine risk analysis techniques for assessing and mitigating basic types of possible stored energy sources for currently available communication, tracking, and atmospheric monitoring systems (AMS).
Radio System Modifications for Improved Mine Safety (Medium Frequency)Kutta Technologies, Inc.200-2010-352958/25/2010A contract to increase the performance of medium frequency communications in underground mines.
Refuge Chamber Deployment and Occupancy Status During Mine Emergency SituationsLockheed Martin200-2012-529338/27/2012A contract to incorporate a wireless base station into the MagneLink Magnetic Communication System (MCS) and to develop a mechanism that automatically activates a portable wireless text messaging device when a refuge chamber is opened or deployed.
Resource Identification for Improvement of Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) in Underground Coal MinesURS CorporationNA3/25/2013A contract to identify possible electromagnetic interference requirements for coal mining equipment to ensure proper operation of equipment used in mines with a view towards maximizing mine safety.
Snake Robot for Mine RescueRaytheon Sarcos, LLC200-2009-307218/10/2009A contract to leverage the on-going development of the new generation Tandem Track (TT) snake robot, by modifying this new system in a way that makes it suitable for operations in underground mines.
Sprinkler Head Emergency Communications Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation200-2008-262938/5/2008A contract to evaluate a fiber optic sprinkler head emergency communications system to determine if this concept can meet the communication, tracking, mine escape, and rescue requirements of an underground communication system.
Subterranean Wireless Electronic Communication System U.S. Army CERDEC 07FED71780110/1/2006An interagency agreement to design and develop a subterranean wireless electronic communications system for the U.S. Army.
Supplementary Technologies for Advanced Mine Communication NetworksFoundation Telecommunications Inc.200-2008-246288/19/2008A contract to develop a Universal Signal Evaluation Package for 75- and 150-MHz bands, adapt a passive magnetic amplifier for 900-MHz, and investigate energy harvesting technologies.
System Reliability and Environmental SurvivabilityFoster-Miller, Inc. (now QinetiQ North America)200-2008-268649/1/2008A contract to develop a practical methodology with appropriate technical guidelines that enables mine operators and enforcement agencies to evaluate the reliability of underground communications, tracking, and atmospheric monitoring systems.
Through-the-Earth Communication Systems for Underground Coal Mines: Product Final Development and Standardized Interface DefinitionE-Spectrum Technologies, Inc.200-2011-398849/1/2011A contract to extend the operational range of a through-the-earth communications system while maintaining the portability and permissibility of the subsurface unit.
Through-The-Earth Wireless Real-Time Two-Way Voice Communications Alertek, LLC200-2008-257208/1/2008A contract to design, build, and demonstrate a battery-powered, through-the-earth wireless voice communication system for overburdens of up to 600 feet.
Two-Way, Through-the-Earth Emergency Communication System for Trapped Miners and the Surface Stolar Research, Inc.200-2009-321179/4/2009A contract to design a prototype two-way, through-the-earth (TTE) emergency communication system, fabricate the hardware, and test the system at an underground coal mine.
Ultra-Low Frequency Through-the-Earth Communication TechnologyE-Spectrum Technologies 200-2008-268188/13/2008A contract to analyze, adapt, and test an existing ultra-low frequency (ULF), through-the-earth system for communication and tracking of underground mine personnel.
Wireless Mesh Mine Communication System L-3 Global Security & Engineering Solutions (now Engility Corporation)200-2007-203885/25/2007A contract to design, adapt, construct, install, and evaluate a wireless mesh communication network in an underground coal mine.
Wireless Through-The-Earth Modeling and SupportLockheed Martin Corporation200-2011-398629/9/2011A contract to determine the factors that most affect signal transmission and reception for through-the-earth communication systems. The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
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