Federal Mine Agency Funds Underground Tracking System

September 5, 2007

A Philippi, West Virginia company that developed a heart and breathing monitor for firefighters and helped NASA research global warming has been hired to create a prototype tracking system to locate miners underground.

Extreme Endeavors has until the end of December to develop a concept under the terms of a $198,700 contract with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, company CEO Mike Masterman said.

His company is one of two working to design prototypes for the institute to consider, NIOSH spokesman Fred Blosser said. SYColeman Corp. of Arlington, Va. has been awarded a $457,315 contract.

Masterman said the biggest challenge for his company will be making a system that is reliable underground without being cumbersome.

To do that, Extreme Endeavor will rely heavily on knowledge gained from a microclimate monitoring system it designed for surface mining operations in eastern West Virginia, Masterman said.

Initially the tracking system will likely be small enough to fit inside a fanny pack, he said. Ultimately, he hopes to get it down to the size of a deck of cards.

Extreme Endeavors and SYColeman will present their concepts to NIOSH, which will decide whether one, both or neither will be asked to complete the design and begin production, Blosser said.

Improving underground tracking systems inside the nation’s coal mines became a priority last year after a series of high-profile deadly accidents, including one at the Sago Mne in Upshur County. Eleven of the 12 men killed in the accident died after an extended entrapment.

Congress acted quickly to pass broad safety legislation that gave federal regulators until mid-2009 to require underground tracking and wireless communications systems underground, among other things.

State regulations also require mining companies to develop plans this year to install wireless communication and tracking system in all mines.

With some 250 underground mines, West Virginia is the nation’s No. 1 underground coal producer.

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