Researchers for the Mining and Industrial Safety Technology and Training Innovation (MISTTI) at Wheeling Jesuit University recently prepared a report on underground coal mine rescue training facilities. This study reviews the 12 major training facilities available to serve the 105 mine rescue teams on call for 500 underground coal mines with a total of approximately 54,000 employees. It also compares 2013 mine rescue issues and concerns with those voiced in the 2008 survey.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) requested this research as a follow-up study to its 2008 inventory of mine rescue training facilities. The MISTTI researchers contacted existing mine rescue training facility staff to identify how training, geographic locations, capabilities, professional services and approaches have changed in the past five years.
These mine rescue training facilities provide real-life and/or state-of-the-art emergency response preparedness training. They are mostly concentrated in the mid-Atlantic region. Since 1970, 13 of the 21 coal mine disasters (defined as five or more fatalities in an accident) have occurred in the central Appalachian (CAPP) coalfields. The previous inventory recommendations suggested that an additional facility was needed in the Appalachian region. For these reasons, questions about proximal and remote audiences served are included in this research.
Comparison of Issues & Concerns
The 2008 inventory of mine rescue training facilities involved geographically distributed stakeholder groups in a series of focus group interviews. The interviews were designed to investigate and identify pressing issues, concerns, barriers and suggestions for improved mine emergency response. Seventy-one coal mine emergency response expert practitioners and trainers, mostly from the industry, participated. The following issues emerged from the 2007-2008 study:
• the need for more emergency response preparedness training;
• a disparity in standardization of skills and equipment;
• incident command shortfalls between teams and the command center;
• the desire for more realism for mine rescue contests and
• a shortage of available mine rescue training facilities.
A high-level review of the data collected from the 12 mine rescue facilities contacted in this study reveals that all five recommendations have been addressed by the mine rescue training facilities as a group. All but two facilities responded that they have expanded their emergency response preparedness training. While there is still a disparity in the level of rigorous and standardized skills and equipment training, this is an area that each facility has addressed within their localized needs assessment and service upgrades.
All of the facilities are cognizant of the need to improve the communications between incident command and command center, and a few facilities have used innovative strategies to address this need. Facility efforts to bring more realism to mine rescue contests and rules can be seen in the images of training activities under way that are featured in many of the facility profiles.
The shortage of mine rescue training facilities, especially in the Appalachian area, which was referenced in the previous report, has been addressed with two brand new company-managed miner training facilities added to the Appalachian region. However, since the previous inventory study, two mine rescue training facilities that were listed in the prior study are now closed — one in Pennsylvania and one in Utah.
1. NIOSH Office of Mine Safety and Health Research
Bruceton Research Lab, Pittsburgh, Pa., and Spokane Research Lab, Spokane, Wash. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/mining
The NIOSH Office of Mine Safety and Health Research (OMSHR) Pittsburgh site encompasses 180 acres and houses six different mine safety and health research laboratories. The experimental coal mines and the Mine Rescue and Escape Training Theatre have the strongest connections to mine rescue technologies and training research.
The Safety Research and Experimental Coal Mines at the Pittsburgh OMSHR site is a multipurpose four-mile, underground mine complex used to support research that works toward the development and evaluation of new health and safety interventions for mine workers. The Experimental Coal Mine consists of two drift entries driven into the Pittsburgh coal seam developed to support full-scale mine explosion tests.
The Safety Research Coal Mine is a room-and-pillar operation approximately the size of a working section and is utilized for research in areas such as ground control, ventilation, fires, explosives use, materials handling, and environmental monitoring. This research mine also has a reversible fan, water hydrants, electric power and compressed air. Although it is not publicly available for regular use, the real-life environment makes it an attractive venue to conduct mine rescue and fire brigade training research, including a variety of smoke training exercises and mine emergency response development (MERD) drills.
If a MERD or mock event is staged, the command center is usually housed in a building located about 100 ft from the mine portal. The incident command center includes communications and mine rescue team staging areas. Neither of the two mines at the NIOSH research facilities were ever production coal mines, but they include a staff of miners who can provide technical and physical assistance to in-house and contract researchers.
The Mine Rescue and Escape Training (MRET) tools include a 3-D display to construct a realistic, virtual environment for training miners and mine rescue teams. Using a virtual reality environment to simulate mine emergencies allows mine rescue teams to learn and practice emergency response practices in a scenario-based training simulation that would be dangerous and impractical to replicate in real life, but offers extremely valuable, applicable and replicable learning experiences.
Currently the staff is working on two scenarios, which will be pilot tested at one or more facilities in the 2014 fiscal year. The MRET research under way is designed to answer these questions: Can mine rescue teams learn/train in this environment? Can this type of training technology be used in lieu of or in addition to traditional instruction? And can the virtual reality system function as a portable training tool? If it is found that this approach is viable, the virtual reality training scenarios may be further expanded and made more widely available as a mine rescue training technology tool.
2. Mining Technology and Training Center
UMWA Career Centers Inc., Prosperity, Pa. http://themttc.com
The Mining Technology and Training Center (MTTC) facility offers a complete Mine Rescue Team training curriculum, including classroom and hands-on training. The center’s 40,000 ft2 simulated mine has six entries, seven crosscuts, two functioning overcasts and an exhaust fan. The center also has a four-entry, five-crosscut smoke mine, hose control pad, 1.4 million Btu “live burn” tunnel, and three outside mine rescue training fields. Additionally, MTTC has a fully equipped mine rescue staging area.
The center also makes use of virtual reality game technology; one exercise has each rescue team member log in to a virtual reality mine according to his or her role on the team. The exercise is designed to test the skills and knowledge of each team member. The mine rescue training curriculum consists of five courses designed by Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) certified mine rescue instructors, and can be customized to satisfy the needs of the participants.
The course topics include:
• Understanding and application of the National Mine Rescue Rules.
• Understanding and application of the National Mine Rescue Mine Map Legend.
• Mine Disaster Training – Recovery and handling of deceased miners.
a. Procedures/guidelines for water movement with large diameter hose.
b. Proper use of nozzles.
c. Victim recovery and proper BSI (Body Substance Isolation).
• First aid for the first 1,000 ft.
• Dräeger BG4. Level 1 and Level 2 Training.
Upon course completion, trainees are CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and AED (automated external defibrillator) and Heartsaver First Aid certified for two years.
MTTC identified several goals in the 2008 report and has satisfied those goals with the construction of the simulated mine, fire pits and burn tunnel. The training curriculum now incorporates a majority of the “primary skills” recommendations of the 2008 report. The center conducts MERD exercises as part of its training regimen.
3. The Academy for Mine Training and Energy Technologies
West Virginia University-Evansdale Campus http://www.statler.wvu.edu/mindext/mining
The West Virginia University Academy for Mine Training and Energy Technologies (Dolls Run Facility) is located 10 miles from the WVU Evansdale Campus. It specializes in Mine Emergency Response trainings, which include specialty skills such as cross-training mine rescue and mine fire brigade teams in advanced firefighting. WVU Mining Extension also has instructors working out of the National Mine Academy in Beaver, W.Va., to conduct these same trainings at this location as well.
The simulated underground mine lab at Dolls Run was dedicated on October 16, 2009. The simulated mine has a unique feature that incorporates all aspects of ventilation, a flowable source of water, theatrical smoke, and a live fire in a training scenario.
The facility is steel in construction and can be set up in a typical three-entry gate section approach, or turned sideways into a five-entry sub main with a section breaking off to the left. The facility is ventilated with a high-volume, low-pressure diesel fan, which can be relocated depending on the approach, and can be set up for blowing or exhaust ventilation.
The simulated mine lab has a 4-in. water line installed along the conveyor belt, which is plumbed into a 10,000-gallon holding tank (exterior from the mine) and pressurized by a gasoline powered pump (also exterior from the mine), and is complete with fire taps and shut-off valves along its entirety. There is a state-of-the-art burn area within the simulated mine, where active firefighting is conducted. Several theatrical smokers are staged throughout the simulated mine lab to provide another aspect to training.
The simulated mine has several mobile mine equipment props, an actual load center (non-functioning), several adjustable regulators and an over-cast. A lifeline is installed in both the primary and secondary escape ways, and the simulated mine also has a Strata Fresh Air Bay training model.
The academy is not limited to only firefighting activities, but has come up with an Emergency Response Training, which includes a full mine evacuation scenario, SCSR training, tethering, expectations, fresh air bay, basic firefighting, and foam generating equipment. The academy has hosted both skills competitions and MERD for coal mines.
4. Running Right Leadership Academy
Alpha Natural Resources, Julian, W.Va. http://www.alphanr.com/safety/Pages/RRLA.aspx
The Running Right Leadership Academy opened during June (See Alpha Academy, July 2013 Coal Age, p. 24). The academy is a private facility. It has the following mine rescue training capabilities:
• First aid and EMT training.
• Mine gases training.
• Dust and ventilation training utilizing a 70,000-cubic in. per minute ventilation system.
• Specialized firefighting training using outside pads and simulated belt fire.
• MERD exercises, including command center training using the communications vehicle shown below.
The Running Right Leadership Academy is planning to offer a curriculum that includes technical skills, safety and leadership training in the near future that satisfies the 2009 recommendation in both primary and non-typical skills.
5. Academy for Mine Training and Energy Technologies
Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College, Logan, W.Va. http://minetrainingacademy.com
The Academy for Mine Training and Energy Technologies is one of the workforce development programs housed at the Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College (SWVCTC). It provides training for individuals who are interested in any of the mining certifications offered in the state of West Virginia. Courses, as well as customized, advanced MERD exercises are available to support miner safety training and mine rescue. Through the use of a repurposed historic downtown Logan manufacturing building with 53,000 ft2 of usable space, as well as resources on the Logan/Mount Gay campuses, the SWVCTC facility houses fully functional mine training simulators and hands-on equipment labs. A unique and attractive training feature is that many of the industry certifications are transferable to academic credit hours. The academy also operates at all SWVCTC campus locations.
The SWVCTC academy is designed to simulate underground coal mines with low-, mid- and high-seam heights. It provides trainees the opportunity for hands-on training in a realistic environment. There is even a hoist elevator that is used for transportation and mine shaft evacuation training. This facility also utilizes state of the art 3-D computer simulations, where trainees can be immersed in real-life situations.
Mine rescue training exercises include:
• Navigation in smoke, water and collapse hazards.
• Advanced confined space and technical rope rescue, surface and underground.
• Advanced trauma and medical training (EMT-M and recertification).
• Rapid transportation of injured miners to include large scale triage and aeromedical training.
• Use of new mine rescue technology such as exploration techniques with thermal imaging cameras.
• Specialized firefighting training, surface and underground, on outdoor burn pads and a fire gallery.
• Dräeger Level I and II, BioMarine, Scott and MSA Breathing Apparatus, Advanced Smoke Diver.
The academy emphasizes incident command protocols and mobilization of emergency assets and integrates this expertise into mine rescue training in the form of MERDs. The facility operates an on-call 24/7 fleet of nine mine emergency response and support vehicles that are partly funded by the state of West Virginia. Given the name Task Force 1, the vehicles are specially designed to provide communications, rescue and fire service to mines in very remote locations.
6. The Mine Simulation Laboratory
National Mine Health and Safety Academy, Beaver, W.Va. http://www.msha.gov/PROGRAMS/EPDMSL.HTM
The Mine Simulation Laboratory is an above-ground simulated mine that provides hands-on training for MSHA inspectors and mining industry personnel. The 48,000-square foot facility has a simulated coal mine with an indoor burn room on the lower level and a simulated metal/nonmetal mine on the second floor level. The coal mine represents a room-and-pillar setup with four entries and nine crosscuts.
The trainers can also introduce smoke and make other changes in the laboratory to demonstrate different tactics and principles. A burn room is located on one end of the simulated coal mine. The simulated metal/nonmetal mine contains passageways, tunnels, stairways, and ladders to simulate different man-ways and other practical aspects of mine rescue problems. Fires are built, under controlled conditions, to teach students the principles of firefighting and emergency ventilation techniques that may be encountered in a mine emergency. A 100,000-cfm mine fan, controlled by solid-state electronics, can vary the volume of air delivered throughout the entries and crosscuts in the two simulated mines.
Mine rescue training includes:
• Problem solving and first aid classroom courses.
• Outdoor firefighting drills.
• Exploration and navigation in poor visibility.
• Construction of temporary and permanent ventilation controls while under apparatus.
• Breathing apparatus – donning and operations.
• Mine gases – measurements, importance of, and regulations
• Map reading.
• Communications – routine, emergency and mayday.
7. Buchanan and BMX Training Facilities
CONSOL Energy, Grundy, Va., and Greene County, Pa. http://consolenergy.com
Formerly the central maintenance shop of Island Creek Coal Company, the Buchanan mine rescue team began converting this building into a uniquely purposed, and all-weather mine rescue training facility in 2007. It is privately owned. The most unique feature in this facility is the indoor mine rescue twin practice fields that are each three-entries wide and five-entries deep. The practice fields have coal blocks painted on the floor that are 14- × 16-ft. This area is large enough to allow two teams to practice for contests simultaneously. Being able to utilize this field all yearlong and during bad weather creates an efficient training schedule.
This facility also includes a 110-ft long smoke maze, where team members explore and navigate around obstacles in a simulated mine environment in which vision is highly compromised. Other features of this facility include a mine rescue equipment and benching room, first aid station, multiple classrooms (annual eight-hour refresher, electrical, smoke and new miner training, as well as other specialized training) and creative mine rescue artwork. Specialized firefighting and foam training are not currently conducted at this site.
CONSOL Energy opened its new Underground Training (BMX) Academy in March in Greene County, Pa. The underground training facility is the first underground coal mining training facility in the United States. CONSOL projects that 350 miners will complete their training at the new facility by December.
In addition to two fully-equipped classrooms where students are provided on-the-job technical and hazard awareness training designed to improve their safety performance and compliance skills, the BMX Academy features a fully operational underground section of the Bailey mine dedicated solely for training and development. The new BMX academy does not support specialized mine rescue team training at this time, but does provide self-escape and self-rescue as part of its miner, MERD exercises and command center training activities.
8. MS&T Experimental Mine
Missouri University of Science & Technology, Rolla, Mo. http://mining.mst.edu/research/depexpmine
The MS&T Experimental Mine is a real underground limestone mine and quarry originally developed for use by its department of mining engineering for experiments, education and research.
Although the facility is primarily for university students, mine rescue teams in Missouri come to the experimental mine for practice and training as well. Additionally, MS&T, alongside MSHA officials, hosts a metal/nonmetal mine rescue contest every year, which takes place inside the underground mine, opposed to an outdoor open field or indoor floor.
9. Mine Rescue/ Fire Training Facility
Rend Lake Community College, Ina, Ill. https://www.rlc.edu/asat/mining-technology
The Rend Lake College’s Coal Mine Training Center opened in the fall of 2009, with the Mine Rescue and Fire Training Facility following in 2010. The center is often used for mine rescue and training drills for several occupational certificates and degrees for RLC students, and attracts students and miners from across the nation to learn and practice on-the-job safety and skills. The training facility is a 100- x 200-ft steel building that includes classroom and office space, coal mining equipment, and a small simulated mine. The north half of this facility is designed to resemble an underground coal mine for a variety of training purposes.
The simulated mine is a metal building built on concrete slab and is approximately 10,000 ft2, with four entries and four crosscuts, removable walls, and a smoke machine to simulate limited visibility. Representative of a trend across several of the facilities, the RLC features removable walls that can be rearranged to suit specific training needs and MERD scenarios. There is also an outside area where fire safety training is performed with the unique advantage of using local firefighters.
10. Mine Emergency Response Academy
Kentucky Coal Academy, Madisonville, Ky. http://coalacademy.kctcs.edu/
Located on the former Madisonville Community College technology campus, the Mine Emergency Response Academy (MERA) is considered by many in the coal industry as a “one-of-a-kind” mine rescue facility. Having a state-of-the-art training facility for coal mine firefighting has filled a need in the mining community of western Kentucky.
MERA offers the opportunity to undergo intense training in an almost real environment. Those who experience MERA training will become more familiar with the nature of an underground fire and will develop the necessary skills and experience to efficiently and effectively respond to them. MERA offers state-of-the-art training to coal miners on how to react to and extinguish fires erupting in confined spaces.
MERA contains a class “A” burn room that can be used by any fire department needing training for structure fires. Additionally, the simulated mine has a burn prop located inside the mine. Fighting this type of burn provides the necessary skills and tools to control and extinguish real mine fires. The Kentucky Coal Academy has also developed and improved three aboveground simulator mines, as well as the nationally known Portal 31 Exhibition Mine.
11. Alabama Mine Training Consortium
Bevill State Community College, Sumiton, Ala. http://www.bscc.edu/mining/
The Alabama Mine Training Consortium (AMTC) has a simulated mine consisting of four entries, four crosscuts, an overcast, beltline, and power center; a fan is used to conduct smoke training and firefighter training using foam for mine rescue teams.
The Mine Emergency Command Center Training (MECCT), which was under construction in 2009, is now fully functional. MECCT fills a safety gap for underground coal mines in Alabama by providing training to mine emergency command center personnel.
Training is provided through a simulated command center that MECCT established at the college’s underground simulated mine. Command center staff conduct a real-time disaster scenario in conjunction with the mine’s mine rescue teams or state-sponsored rescue teams, who can receive their required annual in-smoke training. This training brings together two partners of a mine rescue operation who have not trained together previously. Training also involves, where appropriate, the mine’s safety director and staff in engineering, human resources, and public relations to train them in their roles during a crisis. Training involves seven-hour sessions, with the day starting with two hours of classroom instruction, followed by a four-hour simulation. The simulation requires the command center team to manage numerous variables, including instructional staff to simulate the chaos of a mine emergency. Scenarios are created so that each mine utilizes their own mine maps in the command center to make the training as authentic as possible. The team then spends the last hour of their training in a debriefing session to discuss positives and areas needing improvement.
12. Edgar Experimental Mine
Colorado School of Mines, Idaho Springs, Colo. http://inside.mines.edu/Mining-Edgar-Mine
The mine rescue training program offered by the Colorado School of Mines (CSM) is applicable to both underground and surface coal and metal/nonmetal mines, and offers several courses that focus on acquiring competence in communication and decision-making skills, as well as basic/advanced rescue skills relevant to mine emergencies. The training courses can be taken as stand-alone courses or combined for a comprehensive training experience and can be adapted to meet specific training needs of a mine site.
Specific courses include:
• Underground mine rescue exercises for one to three teams.
• Technical rope rescues (high/low angle operations) that are compliant with NFPA Standards 1006 and 1670.
• Heavy lifts using air bags.
• Confined space entry and rescues.
• Firefighting and burn building exercises.
• Computer mine rescue simulation exercises.
• Dräeger BG4 operations and maintenance.
• Incident command center operations.
• Construction of stoppings using a variety of materials, including Kennedy steel stoppings.
• Extraction of multiple victims from a rescue chamber.
• First aid and victim packaging.
The mine rescue computer simulator is a portable system consisting of four laptop computers (three team computers and one instructor station) operated with game controllers. There are two mine models, a generic coal mine model and the Edgar mine model (metal). If the rescue problem utilizes the Edgar mine model, then after the simulator training is completed, the same problem can be conducted underground allowing the students to experience the physical requirements of the exercise. The computer simulator allows for customized scenarios to include a variety of hazards, numerous victims, and varying levels of smoke, and it supports real-time scenario modifications and documentation of the rescue team route. The main advantage of the computer simulator is that it provides effective communication and decision-making training for mine rescue teams and incident command center staff. It can also be utilized to train mine rescue practices and procedures to novice teams.
The CSM staff includes six professional trainers, who have numerous professional certifications. The CSM staff also includes six undergraduate students, who are members of the CSM mine rescue teams. The CSM Mining Engineering Department supports three student mine rescue teams. Participating on mine rescue teams provides an excellent training opportunity for students, who will work at mine sites and participate in professional mine rescue teams following graduation. The three CSM teams complete approximately 2,000 training hours during a school year with over half of it at the Edgar mine. Their training also includes participation in a regional mine rescue contest and a biennial collegiate MERD held at the Edgar mine. Some of these students also train with professional mine rescue teams when completing internships during the summer break.
The Edgar Experimental Mine has two miles of underground workings, multiple cross-section entries, and an extensive confined space maze. A state-of-the-art MineARC 20-person built-in-place refuge chamber with a fully functional CO2 scrubber and a Jack Kennedy 12-person portable refuge chamber are used to train rescue teams and refuge chamber use.
The surface classroom includes a rebreather lab with an oxygen cascade system, bench testing equipment, dryer and multi-gas testing instruments. Complete sets of Dräeger breathing apparatus, vertical rope rescue/confined space equipment, supplied air system, ultra-light rescue carts/stretchers, and airbag heavy lifting equipment are available for mine rescue training. Five artificial (non-toxic) smoke generator machines can produce smoke to fill small areas of the mine or the entire mine. Ground control and ventilation control materials are provided to construct roof support, stoppings, barricades and/or airlocks.
Onsite firefighting training can be conducted underground using a BullEx fire extinguisher training system. Above ground, firefighting training can be conducted using a large liquid fuel burn pan that can generate medium-size fires. Additional surface propane firefighting props for larger fires will be available in the near future. CSM also has partnerships with several local fire departments for using their training facilities to conduct additional specialized fire training that may be needed.
In nearly all of the mine rescue training programs, facilities are offering and encouraging team members to have advanced health training such as the emergency medical technician (EMT) certification. This reflects the ability of the facilities to offer this advanced training and follows recommendations of advancing the practice that higher level of health and safety training is needed and advantageous for mine rescue team members.
The previous mine rescue training facility research recommended that team training be more based on MERD exercises. All of the facilities contacted are now doing this, and many of the training programs are adapting the MERD exercises to include data from recent mining accidents — especially as related to mine fires, explosions, ventilation control and ground control issues, which are the most frequent causes of mine tragedies (involving the death of five or more miners).
The technology to support mine rescue team response to mine accidents is now being used in more innovative and adaptable ways to support the use of scenario-based training. WVU, MTTC, SWVCTC and RLC facility staff described examples of the configurable training strategies they use. MTTC uses computer laptops with a scenario-based game, built just for a particular client, and then takes this computer-based simulation on the road to the client so the training is done at the client’s facility. The MSHP mine rescue team described their latest approach that includes taking portable equipment with them and offering command center training at the mine facilities. This is one strategy that greatly helps getting mine management involved in the mine rescue training exercises.
Much of the scenario-based mine rescue training can be adapted and with up-front planning can be offered at the mine site. Being able to offer “portable training” is an excellent alternative that allows trainers to use the authentic mine context, include upper management in the command center training, and use the equipment, procedures and landscape of the actual production mine for the contextual training.
Many of the facilities are incorporating desktop and immersive virtual reality training technologies that allow trainees to work through different levels of mine emergency scenarios. The NIOSH Bruceton Research Center is leading research applications of the virtual reality training technologies to determine: (a) How well mine rescue teams learn in this environment, and (b) if the mine rescue teams view this area as a valuable training tool. The objective of this project is to identify the 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. Self-protective actions are also considered responses.
The NIOSH facility has a fully immersive virtual reality theater, which actually puts people into gear and simulates environment. Several of the mine training facilities describe their use of a variety of virtual reality levels from a computer game-based context to the fully immersive virtual reality 3-D. Further research would help trainers understand when to use which technology to help mine rescue teams gain the greatest skill and knowledge for application in a crisis situation.
In contrast to the NIOSH virtual reality training technologies, the MTTC facility has developed a computer-based game, which is used to make the introductory skill and content training more engaging. The game is scenario-based and prepares the trainees for the fully engaging, MERD exercises that are designed to further prepare the mine rescue teams for application of skills and knowledge in emergency scenario contexts set up within their own simulated mine facility.
The shift to integrate mine rescue skills and knowledge training into an academic setting has led to more rigorous certification opportunities. The increased offering of EMT as part of the health and safety training is an example of this. The increased use of MERD exercises and a reality focus in the training suggests that mine rescue training professionals can benefit by closer ties with academic, government, and industry researchers who are identifying new technologies, methods and practices to improve mine safety practices. These ties are especially useful in the areas where the most common and most dangerous accidents occur.
Summary & Recommendations
Mine rescue training is critical and has the ongoing challenge of staying up to date with the technology enhancements to mining production. This challenge could be addressed by having a stronger relationship between mine rescu