Mining Project: Virtual Reality to Train and Assess Emergency Responders

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Principal Investigator
Start Date 12/1/2011
End Date 9/30/2014

The objective of this project was to determine optimal use of virtual reality (VR) 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 miners who may be called upon to respond to an emergency situation.

Topic Areas

Research Summary


One result of several mine disasters in the first decade of this century has been the passing of significant federal and state mine safety and health legislation. Specifically, the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act (MINER Act) of 2006 addresses mine emergency response preparedness and increased training requirements for all miners. 

While it is difficult to quantify safety and health improvements for low probability events such as mine emergencies it is possible to analyze response readiness and the impact that emergency response research and interventions have on attitudes about safety and health. This project was designed to improve the competence and confidence of miners in the areas of mine emergency response. While this project specifically targeted underground coal mines, the results will be relevant to all mine commodities and potentially to non-mining industrial settings.

The Virtual Reality to Train and Assess Emergency Responders project capitalized on NIOSH's Training Research and Development team's unique training research and virtual image creation expertise to better determine optimal use of virtual reality (VR) technologies for training and assessing mine emergency responders. The team continues to build on past work in the areas of emergency response, training development and evaluation, serious game development, design and testing of instrumentation, and software development. This research project is the first to be developed and conducted primarily within the NIOSH Mining Program's Virtual Immersion and Simulation Laboratory (VISLab). Results are intended to contribute not only to the advancement of mine emergency response training but also to the use of virtual environments for training in other settings.

Project Aims and Outcomes

The project included research aims in training assessment, training development, and interactive technology and data collection methods and resulted in the following outcomes:

Training Assessment: 360° Immersive Training Environment

Several mine rescue teams visited NIOSH to participate in mine rescue training scenarios in the VISLab’s 360° theater and completed assessments of their knowledge and skills, levels of confidence, their perceptions regarding the realism of the scenario and the environment, and their level of engagement with the problem. Based on survey results, a majority of the participants gained knowledge and reacted positively to the training environment and agreed the training was a good supplement to existing mine rescue training, and made them more confident in correctly responding to a real mine emergency.

Training Development: BG 4 Benching Software Trainer

Researchers utilized 3D technology to develop a supplemental tool, the BG 4 Benching Trainer Software, used to assist mine rescue personnel in learning and retaining knowledge of the process of benching (inspecting, assembling, and testing) a Draeger BG 4 breathing apparatus. A large majority of mine rescue team members who completed the desktop training module agreed the training made them feel more confident they could correctly bench a BG4 during a real mine emergency and helped them learn something that could be helpful during a real mine emergency.

Interaction Technology and Data Collection Methods

In addition to the system-generated data captured through the interaction technologies utilized in NIOSH's virtual reality training modules, VISLab researchers began exploring the use of electroencephalography (EEG) to non-invasively measure neural activity during virtual exercises. This methodology allows researchers to measure and track cognitive function directly in an effort to gain further understanding of what signal characteristics relate to changes in cognitive workload and the signal robustness in relation to changes in environment (Bellanca, Eiter, Orr, and Macdonald, 2015).

Several research efforts initiated under this project continue and the work has transitioned to the Self-Escape from Underground Coal Mines Training Initiative.


Bellanca, Jennica L., Brianna M. Eiter, Timothy J. Orr, and Brendan D. Macdonald. The Effect of the Simulation Environment on Cognitive Workload Metrics. Proc. of 37th International Symposium on the Application of Computers and Operations Research in the Mineral Industry, Alaska, Fairbanks. Englewood: Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration, 2015. 794-99.

Page last reviewed: October 22, 2016
Page last updated: October 22, 2016