The shelter, designed to withstand explosions and fires in addition to protecting miners from harmful gases, underwent its latest round of successful testing Tuesday (August 24). The test exposed the “Guardian Angel” shelter to flames to simulate an underground fire while sensors inside monitored air quality and temperature. Earlier testing subjected the enclosure to explosions and crushing weights, simulating a collapse.

Hota GangaRao, a civil engineering professor and director of the WVU Constructed Facilities Center, is the lead researcher on the project. Working with him are John Zondlo, professor of chemical engineering, and David Rice, a consultant. GangaRao and his colleagues began developing the shelter after the 2006 Sago disaster that killed 12 and led to new federal regulations requiring mine shelters and other increased safety measures.

GangaRao said shelters currently in place in West Virginia mines are mostly tent-like structures designed to protect miners against carbon monoxide, while the ones undergoing testing by his research team are designed to also withstand explosions and fires and to meet new and more stringent federal regulations that will go into effect in 2013.

“There is no doubt that this shelter could have saved lives at Sago and that it can save lives in the future,” said GangaRao. The 5-foot-high by 8-foot wide and 24-foot-long steel structure has food, safety equipment and other items to keep 10 miners safe for four days. All of the testing conducted thus far has been very successful, GangaRao said. More testing lies ahead, including placing people inside the chamber to live. The researchers hope to complete testing in the next two months. Trinity Resources of Eleanor, W.Va., will manufacture and market the shelters once they receive federal approval.