Grant to support mine safety research at Marshall

The Center for Environmental, Geotechnical and Applied Sciences (CEGAS) is receiving $96,306 from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration to support mine safety research.

Researchers at CEGAS will use the grant funds over the next year to develop a computer program to perform mine ventilation network planning calculations. The program will simulate a mine’s ventilation system and its response to altered conditions, including external influences such as temperatures and internal influences such as mine fires.

The CEGAS researchers plan to incorporate the program into a virtual mine safety training academy to produce realistic mine emergency response exercises.

Dr. Tony Szwilski, director of CEGAS, will serve as the principal investigator on the grant. He will be supported by research associates Dr. Jack Smith, who also serves as co-principal investigator, and Justin Chapman, as well as IT services manager Mark Lewis.

“This program, which we call VFIRE, will be a unique educational and training tool,” Szwilski said. “Using the Internet, students and trainees will be able to log into a virtual underground mine from anywhere. They will be able to perform realistic mine emergency response exercises in collaboration with other participants, while interacting with a simulated ventilation system. We are confident VFIRE will be an innovative product that will have numerous applications including mine safety and training.”

The grant is being awarded through the Brookwood-Sago program, which provides education and training within the mining industry. The funding is used to develop and implement training and related materials for mine emergency preparedness, as well as for the prevention of accidents in underground mines.

“We can never over-emphasize the importance of training, especially in the area of mine emergency response,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, when the awards were made last month. “These grants enable organizations that are dedicated to mine safety to develop programs that may one day save miners’ lives.”

The Brookwood-Sago program was established through a provision in the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006. The grants were named in remembrance of 13 men who died in two explosions at the Jim Walter Resources Inc. No. 5 Mine in Brookwood, Ala., in 2001, and 12 men who died in an explosion at the Sago Mine in Tallmansville, W.Va., in 2006.