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Mining Program Area: Emergency Response and Rescue


Rescue TeamWhen mine workers’ lives are in danger, mine emergency response systems must function rapidly and competently. The hierarchy of response actions begins with self-escape, then first responders and/or fire brigades, and finally mine rescue teams. If there is a breakdown in self-escape and initial responders are not successful, then the deployment of mine rescue teams is necessary. Mine workers may enter underground refuges, in which case rescuers are the time-critical link to helping them return safely to the surface.

Just as in firefighting, mine rescue team members accept some personal risk to save the lives of others. Hence, it is essential that the U.S. mine rescue teams are fully equipped with state-of-the-art technology, achieve competence with professional trainers, and receive guidance from the best available mine emergency response experts.

Emergency situations can include medical and trauma emergencies, roof falls or slope failures with entrapment, and mine fires and explosions. While there are many different kinds of emergency situations, adequate planning and preparation will ensure an effective response. Realistic simulations of emergencies and evaluation of competencies are needed to ensure responders are prepared. Effective response in turn will allow mine operators to deal with the situations, protect both workers and citizens during response events, and return the operation to production as quickly as possible with the fewest possible injuries.

Over 60,000 mine works are employed at underground mines. As of April 2012, Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) reports the following numbers for available company and state operated mine rescue teams: 193 coal, 24 coal surface, 173 metal/nonmetal (M/NM), and 20 M/NM surface. The Office of Mine Safety and Health Research (OMSHR) research program goal is to enhance the safety and effectiveness of escaping mine workers and emergency responders. This can be accomplished by developing realistic training simulations and through research to improve, develop, and/or identify technology useful for rescue, exploration, recovery, firefighting, escape, and evacuation.

OMSHR does research in emergency response and rescue from mine emergencies, including organizational and individual response, traumatic incident stress, worker expectations, and incident command center coordination. The new Mine Rescue and Escape Training Lab is investigating how virtual reality simulations could be used to shorten the emergency response learning curve for new employees and to retrain the existing teams and workforce.


A systematic mine worker escape and safe rescue strategy is necessary when mine accidents such as fires or explosions occur and lives are in danger. Mine workers have not always escaped U.S. coal mine accidents, and rescuers have not always reached trapped or barricaded mine workers in time to save their lives. OMSHR is investigating how to help the underground coal industry develop resilient mine workers who are capable of timely self-escape under adverse conditions and hazardous atmospheres, first responders and mine rescue teams who are capable of rapid, state-of-the-art safe rescue, and management organizations that effectively support these goals.

As a result of training under more realistic conditions, teams have been able to perform at a higher level, have found and extinguished difficult mine fires, and have successfully explored in heavy smoke filled entries when less experienced teams could not. As a result of OMSHR’s research, multiple training facilities are now available in the United States to provide simulated mine emergency training in compliance with the spirit of the MINER Act of 2006. Examples of OMSHR’s ongoing research include initiatives such as (1) revolutionizing the breathing air supply technology employed by self-contained self-rescuers, refuge alternatives, and emergency responders; (2) creating virtual reality simulations for training in non-hazardous environments; (3) jump starting the technology transfer of communication and tracking systems; and (4) supporting industry initiatives to develop public training venues.

Currently, the Mine Rescue and Escape Training Laboratory is being used to determine optimal use of virtual reality technologies for training and assessing mine emergency responders. Responders include specially trained individuals, such as mine rescue or fire brigade team members, and also managers and mine workers who may be called upon to respond to an emergency situation.

Mine rescue simulations and in-mine smoke training exercises have been developed, conducted, and evaluated in cooperation with state agencies and mining companies. For example, OMSHR conducted 97 realistic mine rescue and fire brigade team training exercises or smoke evacuation drills at the Lake Lynn Laboratory, Safety Research Coal Mine, or operating mines; 449 teams have participated, many multiple times.

During the underground exercises, rescue teams explored and mapped smoke-filled passageways, searched for missing mine workers, administered first aid to injured mine workers, supported bad roof by erecting standing support, re-established ventilation, and completed other scenarios. Team members also fought liquid fuel and gas fires and conveyor belt fires on the surface or underground with dry chemical powder, high-expansion foam, and waterlines. Improved technologies such as lighted vests, thermal imaging cameras, wireless communications systems, gas detector simulators, and lifelines are also evaluated during these exercises.

Gas monitor simulator (GMS) training methods were tested with coal and M/NM mine rescue teams (in contests and training) and fire brigades. Historically, paper placards were used to convey gas concentration data during training or contests. The GMS allows trainers to wirelessly send gas data to trainees through a device that is similar in size to an actual gas detector. The device has optional visual and audible alarms and was found to increase the realism of training.

Each underground coal mine worker must be trained in the proper procedures for inspecting and donning self-contained self-rescuers (SCSR), switching from one unit to another, and ensuring a proper fit. Researchers at OMSHR developed a procedure for switching from one SCSR to another and developed expectations training to teach mine workers what to expect from the SCSR unit during an emergency and what to expect from themselves and fellow workers during escape

Projects & Contracts

TitlePIsStart DateDescription
Improving Situational Awareness through Visual InterventionsJohn Sammarco11/7/2014A project to reduce the risk of fatalities and serious injuries by using human visual performance data to develop specifications for visual cues and technologies that will improve situational awareness and decisionmaking during self-escape.
Investigation of Enhanced Refuge AlternativesDavid Yantek6/1/2011A project to provide the underlying scientific evidence that addresses, minimizes, and, where possible, eliminates the concerns miners have about using a refuge alternative after a mine disaster.
Self-Escape from Underground Coal Mines Training InitiativeLauna Mallet10/1/2014A project to characterize the essential components of the mine emergency escape system and develop interventions designed to improve system preparedness and self-escape training of underground coal mining personnel.
TitlePIsStart DateDescription
Improvements to Mine Escape TrainingRobert H. Peters10/1/2009A project to ensure that suitable information exists for properly training underground coal miners on appropriate procedures for escaping from dangerous situations such as fires, explosions, and inundations.
Improving Underground Coal Mine Sealing StrategiesRichard Karl Zipf2/13/2008A project seeking to eliminate disasters from gas explosions within sealed areas of coal mines through improved engineering of the complete sealing process and better education of the mining workforce.
Virtual Reality to Train and Assess Emergency RespondersCassandra L. Hoebbel12/1/2011A research project designed to determine optimal use of virtual reality (VR) technologies for training and assessing mine emergency responders.
TitleContractorContract/IAG #Start DateDescription
Adapting Remote Methane Leak Detector (RMLD) to Coal Miner RescuePhysical Sciences, Inc.200-2011-405659/19/2011A contract to evaluate the practicality and permissibility of modern laser-based technology for remotely detecting and mapping potentially explosive methane accumulations.
Cryogenic Life Support Technology Development ProjectNASA Kennedy Space Center12FED12132597/1/2012An interagency agreement to develop cryogenic breathing apparatus and supply/filling systems for mine escape, rescue, and refuge.
Efficiency Improvement Study of Mine Rescue Breathing Apparatus and Development of an Improved Prototype CCBANaval Sea Systems Command12FED12133147/1/2012An interagency agreement to investigate alternative system designs or current system modifications for mine rescue breathing apparatus, to determine the extent of potential efficiency improvements.
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.
Extending and Monitoring the Scrubber Performance in Escape and Rescue Mining RebreathersNavy Experimental Diving Unit12FED12133258/15/2012An interagency agreement to extend and monitor the scrubber performance in escape and rescue mining rebreathers.
Mine Escape Vehicle Technology Retrofit DemonstrationRaytheon UTD, Inc.200-2013-567959/9/2013A contract to design the integration of appropriate Mine Escape Vehicle (MEV) technology into either an existing mantrip being refurbished or a new mantrip under construction.
New Vest Style Escape SCSR Through SCSR Efficiency Improvement StudyNavy Experimental Diving Unit12FED12132446/1/2012An interagency agreement to investigate efficiency improvements for pure oxygen breathing apparatuses used by miners in emergencies, namely SCSRs, and to develop an improved ergonomically designed SCSR.
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
Atmospheric Analysis of Refuge AlternativesNASA Ames Research Center08FED89835410/1/2008An interagency agreement to improve understanding of safe CO2 concentrations and scrubbing methods, methods to remove CO in case of chamber contamination, and the effect of chamber design, occupancy, and ambient conditions on heat and humidity.
Development and Demonstration of the Battelle Barrier Survival System Battelle Memorial Institute200-2007-220678/30/2007A contract to design, test, develop, and demonstrate a prototype for an advanced mine barrier survival system (MBSS).
Development and Testing of a Mine Escape Vehicle (MEV)Raytheon UTD200-2010-367239/10/2010A contract to acquire, prototype construct, test, and evaluatue Mine Escape Vehicle (MEV) subsystem components along with their integration into the MEV vehicle platform.
Development of a Mine Rescue Drilling System and Robotics Mission Feasibility StudySandia National Laboratories 08FED8983495/14/2008An interagency agreement to conduct experiments to improve the efficiency and speed of drilling operations and develop robots and robotic assist technology.
Development of a Seismic System for Locating Trapped MinersWest Virginia University Research Corporation200-2011-398859/1/2011A contract to evaluate SureWave Technology's seismic system for locating trapped miners by conducting tests at depths of 2,000 ft or more and under various challenging but common conditions.
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 Components for Breathing Escape Apparatus (DSOV)Avon Protection Systems, Inc.200-2012-527888/29/2012A contract to deliver working prototypes of docking and switch-over valves that will be used in the next generation of escape breathing apparatus.
Development of Components for Breathing Escape Apparatus (DSOV/HMC)Essex Industries, Inc.200-2012-528798/24/2012A contract to deliver working prototypes of docking/switch-over valves and hoods/masks with passive communication elements that will be used in the next generation of escape breathing apparatus.
Development of Components for Breathing Escape Apparatus (DSOV/HMC/VHPC)Carleton Technologies, Inc.200-2012-526249/1/2012A contract to deliver working prototypes of docking/ switch-over valves and hoods/masks with passive communication elements that will be used in the next generation of escape breathing apparatus.
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.
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.
Mining and Industrial Safety Technology and Training InnovationWheeling Jesuit University1H75OH0098229/30/2009A contract in the form of a grant to investigate how modern technologies and educational approaches can improve mine safety.
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.
Modernization and Further Development of the NIOSH Mine Emergency Response Training System (MERITS), Phase 1 Orion International Technologies 200-2008-2385812/1/2007A contract to develop a modernized and improved version of the NIOSH Mine Emergency Response Interactive Training Simulation (MERITS), making it compatible with modern computer systems.
Rapid Response Rescue Drilling System Development for Mine Rescue ApplicationCenter Rock, Inc.200-2011-406829/1/2011A contract to identify equipment needs, available contractors, and the development and demonstration process for a rapid response drilling system for mine rescue operations.
Refuge Alternatives in Underground Coal Mines Foster-Miller, Inc. (now Qinetiq, North America)200-2007-202764/11/2007A contract to develop engineering guidelines associated with the location, construction, and general application of various refuge alternatives.
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.
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. The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
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