Government Technology

    Digital Communities
    Industry Members

  • Click sponsor logos for whitepapers, case studies, and best practices.
  • McAfee

Wireless Tracking Devices Come to Mines



September 25, 2008 By

Miners are wearing new "micro-wireless" monitoring tags in 30 West Virginia mines in order to comply with new safety regulations from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

The devices -- developed by Axcess International Inc., a manufacturer of wireless monitoring products, and Tunnel Radio of America Inc. -- are designed to track the location of individual miners in order to aid rescue operations in case of an accident. The tags transmit in the 315 to 433 MHz band, which Allan Griebenow, president and CEO of Axcess International, said is more robust than Wi-Fi transmitting at 2.4 GHz.

"The tag is connected directly to the side of the helmet, and it technically can be worn in the pocket or even provided around a lanyard as an ID," Griebenow said.

The safety rule, effective mid-year 2009, was prompted by the tragic Sago mine disaster in Upshur County, W. Va., on June 2, 2006. Twelve miners suffocated there after being trapped by an underground explosion. Investigators faulted the slow rescue effort, miscommunication -- family members of the killed miners were mistakenly told they were alive -- and first responders' inability to notify the trapped miners that a rescue attempt was under way.

In the wake of that tragedy, President George W. Bush signed The Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act, which amended the 1977 Mine Safety and Health Act to require that mine operators implement post-accident rescue plans and provide their miners with wireless tracking systems, among other improvements.

"I think what's been interesting about this three-year period [since then] is it's taken that amount of time to get the combination of robust trunking technologies and robust tagging technologies to work together to be able to provide a solution that's reliable and cost effective," Griebenow said.

"You must have tags that are sealed; our tags will actually transmit out of a glass of water if you want them to," he said. "I think it's also important to note that the trunking backbone in a mine is unique. You can't just drop a typical Wi-Fi transmitter and access point in a mineshaft because you have various level changes and obstacles."

The tags automatically page third parties, such as first responders, when miners trigger an alert, Griebenow said. In the case of an emergency, first responders can use software to determine the workers' location on a mine diagram.

In the future, Axcess might be able to expand the tag's features to include measurements such as ambient temperature and motion sensing, he said.

The MSHA has approved 45 tracking and communications products so far that meet the standard, and more applications for approval are in the pipeline. The MSHA groups these devices into categories:

  • handheld two-way radios
  • mine page phones, which are "self-contained, battery-powered communication units that provide loudspeaker paging and handset party line conversation over a two-conductor telephone line"
  • leaky feeder communication systems -- "two-way radio systems that feature a base station on the surface that communicates with individual underground radio units, such as walkie-talkie radios" via a cable network
  • radio frequency identification (RFID)
  • personal emergency devices (PED), which are a "belt-wearable receiving units for individual miners" that can receive text messages.

The potential market for these tracking systems is large. In 2007, there were 14,870 U.S. mines employing nearly 380,000 miners, according to the MSHA. So far this year, the administration has reported 35 mining-related deaths in the U.S.


| More

Comments

Add Your Comment

You are solely responsible for the content of your comments. We reserve the right to remove comments that are considered profane, vulgar, obscene, factually inaccurate, off-topic, or considered a personal attack.

In Our Library

White Papers | Exclusives Reports | Webinar Archives | Best Practices and Case Studies
Digital Cities & Counties Survey: Best Practices Quick Reference Guide
This Best Practices Quick Reference Guide is a compilation of examples from the 2013 Digital Cities and Counties Surveys showcasing the innovative ways local governments are using technological tools to respond to the needs of their communities. It is our hope that by calling attention to just a few examples from cities and counties of all sizes, we will encourage further collaboration and spark additional creativity in local government service delivery.
Wireless Reporting Takes Pain (& Wait) out of Voting
In Michigan and Minnesota counties, wireless voting via the AT&T network has brought speed, efficiency and accuracy to elections - another illustration of how mobility and machine-to-machine (M2M) technology help governments to bring superior services and communication to constituents.
Why Would a City Proclaim Their Data “Open by Default?”
The City of Palo Alto, California, a 2013 Center for Digital Government Digital City Survey winner, has officially proclaimed “open” to be the default setting for all city data. Are they courageous or crazy?
View All