Friday, November 04, 2011
Contact: Lalena Price, Communications Coordinator, 304-746-1989

Marshall University gets federal funds to develop Virtual Mine Safety Training Academy

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Work is under way to develop a Virtual Mine Safety Training Academy at Marshall University as a result of a $117,000 award from the Brookwood-Sago federal grant program.  

The grant program, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration, was named in remembrance of the 12 men who died in an explosion at the Sago Mine in Tallsmanville, W.Va., in 2006, and the 13 men who died in two explosions at the Jim Walter Resources Inc. No. 5 Mine in Brookwood, Ala., in 2001.  The program was established through a provision in the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006, which West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller helped introduce and win passage.

Marshall University’s Center for Geotechnical and Applied Sciences (CEGAS) will develop the innovative training academy, which will be a comprehensive mine safety training tool with a Web-based, simulated environment that will include an underground room-and-pillar coal mine, according to Dr. Tony Szwilski, director of CEGAS.

Szwilski brings significant mining experience with him to the project, and expertise in virtual technology for the academy will be provided by Jack Smith and other members of the CEGAS team, including undergraduate students from Marshall University’s College of Information Technology and Engineering and College of Science. 

“As we have witnessed from mining tragedies such as the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, all participating entities in an emergency response at a mine—including the mining company, and federal and state officials—must collaborate, coordinate and perform extremely well to best serve potentially trapped or isolated miners and their families,” Szwilski said. “Our Virtual Mine Safety Training Academy will be a vital resource. Access to effective and quality mine emergency response training is critical.”

The academy will provide easy access from any geographical location through the Internet to training resources housed in a virtual campus-like environment. The initial emphasis will be on mine emergency response and preparedness. The academy’s platform also will house an underground coal mine, and will use a UNITY game-engine to create a unique multi-trainee and interaction site providing valuable mine emergency response exercises such as communications and decision-making in dangerous and stressful environments. 

The academy will essentially be continuation of the work that CEGAS has carried out over the past five years to build interactive programs and provide a semi-immersive environment through Marshall’s engineering Visualization Lab to demonstrate a realistic virtual underground coal mine.

In total, the Brookwood-Sago grant program has made eight awards nationally for a total of $1 million in federal funding to train miners and mine rescue teams to prepare for emergencies and prevent accidents. The initial award announcement was made by Sen. Rockefeller, Sen. Joe Manchin and Congressman Nick J. Rahall.

For further information, contact:  Office of University Communications
Marshall University | 213 Old Main | Huntington, WV 25755-1090
Fax: (304) 696-3197