Join an on-line chat at 1:00 pm today (8/16) on technology to locate trapped miners.

On day 11, the rescue efforts continue for the six trapped miners at a Utah coal mine.  A third borehole (2″) punctured the mine workings yesterday afternoon to allow a camera to be lowered into the mine to scan for any sign of the miners.  With each borehole drilled and each camera-search, the questions being repeated across the nation are “where are the miners?” and “why don’t we know more precisely where they are in the mine?” 

After the Sago disaster, family members, worker advocates and coal miners themselves agreed unanimously that miners should be equipped with some sort of device so that their location underground is known at all times.  That way, if an explosion, roof fall or other emergency occurs which impedes miners from evacuating from underground, the rescue teams will have key data on where to find them.

In the days and weeks following Sago, we heard from dozens of small manufacturers, professional designers, and back-yard tinkerers with all kinds of ideas to improve communication and tracking of underground miners.*  We invited all of them to present their ideas and display their technology at a symposium held in April 2006 in Wheeling, WV.   It was really inspiring to see all these interesting inventors and entrepreneurs gathered at small booths, so very eager to talk about the potential of their products and ideas to assist trapped miners.  What I recall most about the entire event was that nearly every one of these exhibitors talked about watching the Sago rescue efforts play out on national TV, and becoming anxious, frustrated or invigorated knowing that they had an existing technology that might be applied in the mining environment.  For much of the exhibit period, Amber Helms (whose father Terry Helms died in Sago) engaged in dynamic discussions about the possibilities of the technologies on display.  Many of the exhibitors just wanted a shot, an opportunity, that is, to try out their inventions in a real underground mine.  Many asked, “can you get me into a mine so we can try out our device?”      

Sadly, the need for tracking equipment seems to have fallen to the back burner, perhaps because the MINER Act 2006 doesn’t require such equipment until at least June 2009.  But now, with the uncertain fate of the six trapped miners in Utah, the urgency of tracking devices has emerged again.

Yesterday, a couple of dozen individuals participated in an on-line chat about the current status of tracking devices.  The chatroom, hosted by Wheeling Jesuit University’s National Technology Transfer Center, will resume again today from 1:00 pm until 5:00 pm.  Some of these inventors and entrepreneurs we first met in Wheeling last year participated in that chat yesterday, including representatives from InSeT Systems, Matric Systems, emenu, Inc., Active Control, Workhorse Technologies, and Mine Site Technologies.  Thanks to them for not giving up on their technologies for the good of mine workers.   I for one was feeling the need to try to contribute in some way to improve our capabilities to rescue trapped miners. It felt good to have an avenue to reconnect with some of these creative individuals and pick their brains about how their equipment may (or may not) have performed in the Utah disaster, based on what we currently know about the rockburst.

All are welcome to join in today’s on-line chat.

*Celeste Monforton, MPH was part of Davitt McAteer’s team that investigated the Sago and Aracoma Alma coal mine disasters, on behalf of West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin.  As part of our work, we received boxes of letters from individuals who had ideas for all sorts of mine rescue and safety equipment.