Monday, March 13, 2006

Just got back from MSHA's all-day session to hear about technology for communication and tracking in mine emergencies, which they held at the National Press Club. Daily press people I saw included AP, Courier-Journal, Pittsburg Post-Gazette. It was too bad that, so far as I could see, those folks were not there after the lunch break, and so apparently didn't get to hear remarks by several mine rescue team members who were responders at the Sago emergency. MSHA acting chief David Dye also departed at halftime.

Mty mind is slightly boggled by the technical side at the moment. (Slightly? Let's say confused but confident of getting it right with some followup calls.)

The human side is easier to read. The mine rescue team members, from CONSOL's Blacksville No. 2, Robinson Run, and Loveridge Mine were still obviously shaken from their experience and, among all the speakers, were the one that got applause from the audience. They have definite ideas about how to do better and not all involve technology. For instance, comments by two indicated some teams had trouble getting past checkpoints at Sago, and an ID system for teams could help with that. They also are asking to help test the technology in actual mines. By the way, they had high praise for gtheir company's training and support for the teams.

The rescue team members thought some of the technical presentations were unrealistic. Of some proposed components, "a little bit of plastic" isn't going to survive an explosion, one said. Bottom line from these guys on technology: some of the "out there" ideas aren't going to work, but technology does exist that could be used now or within a pretty short time, and they want action taken.

Company officials from Arch and Peabody talked about systems they've used. Underground systems of course are vulnerable to damage, but they said surface anternnas (which can work just as well) have been a problem due to rough terrain and property rights, among other things.

Then there were the firms with products to show, and quite a few more folks with an interest in this area. Most discussion was on wireless or partially wireless ommunication underground and this is where I have to hit the books to make sense of it. There's even a, get this, bomb-proofing paint, which someone was discussing informally during a break, which might remotely be of use in hardening components or facilities.

Anyway, too much to digest here, but will be writing it up for MS&HNews.

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