A Progress Report on Improvements in Mine Emergency Response
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A Progress Report on Improvements in Mine Emergency Response
Remarks delivered at the 3rd Annual meeting of the Holmes Mine Rescue Association
October 29, 2015 in Beckley, WV.

Welcome, it's good to see everyone here today at the 3rd Annual meeting of the Holmes Mine Rescue Association.

Tomorrow on October 30th, we will be celebrating Mine Rescue Day to honor those brave men and women, past, present and future, who have volunteered for some of the most difficult and challenging rescue work undertaken in our country.

While we will commemorate the dedication and sacrifice of mine rescue volunteers tomorrow, this is a good time for us all to reflect on how far we have come over the past few years in securing a better future for mine rescue and work left to be done.

When I came to MSHA in late 2009 one of my top priorities was to improve mine emergency. Having personally engaged in mine emergencies at a number of mine accidents, including some of the worst disasters in modern time, I knew first hand that improvements to our national emergency response readiness was needed. I was not alone in my thinking. Others in the mine rescue community agreed that changes were needed.

As a result, in early 2010, I directed MSHA to conduct an analysis of mine emergency response to identify gaps and outline the improvements that were needed. So we began an effort working with the mine rescue community to build a better foundation for mine rescue. I want to update you on our progress.

To help us identify gaps and develop improvements, we began our efforts by reaching out to the entire mine rescue community through mine rescue summits, meetings and other events.

As a result of the meetings, we identified a number of areas for needed improvement, including the following. o Investing in technology to make mine rescue quicker and safer; o Improving training for mine rescue teams; o Providing better support for mine rescue nationally; o Upgrading MSHA and industry response equipment; o Increasing MSHA's response capabilities. o Being better prepared at command and control; and o Improving guidance for and decision-making during mine emergency operations.

One by one we began our work. Our gaps analysis made clear that there was a critical need for a national mine rescue structure to address mine emergency response issues.

In 2013, working with the National Holmes Safety Association and stakeholders we formed the National Holmes Mine Rescue Association. We had finally come full circle. When the Joseph A. Holmes Safety Association was originally founded by Joseph A. Holmes back in 1911, it too included mine rescue as one of its missions.

The Holmes Mine Rescue Association now includes broad participation across mine rescue community, from both coal and metal and nonmetal mines, to support and provide guidance on mine rescue.

Several working committees have now been established in this organization to address various aspects of mine rescue.

The Holmes Mine Rescue Association and the Holmes Safety Association held their first joint meeting in Virginia Beach this June. It was a very successful meeting. The Association has selected Branson, Missouri as the site for its next joint meeting in 2016.

We have also made a number of technological advances to conduct mine rescue more quickly and safer for our teams.

Since 2010, we have placed considerable emphasis on developing state-of-the-art communication, tracking, mapping and atmospheric monitoring technologies that connect advancing rescue teams directly with the command center, allow mapping of explorations in real time through the command center and providing for remote atmospheric monitoring during mine rescue activities. They will provide opportunities to provide a briefing of teams about to enter mines in real time. These technologies are now a reality. We will complete our work on them this year and all of MSHA's MEO stations will be equipped with them.

We have tested these systems in collaboration with many of our industry and state stakeholders at the NIOSH Bruceton Experimental Mine, the Consol Energy’s Buchanan and Harvey Mines, and Alpha Natural Resources’ Hominy Creek Mine.

This equipment has already been deployed at actual mine events including at the Revenue Mine in Colorado, Deer Run Mine in Illinois, the Hockley Salt Mine in Texas, the Alpha Natural Resources Dorchester Mine in Virginia and the Pattison Stone Mine in Iowa.

MSHA will hold a mine emergency MERD exercise the week of November 3, 2015 at the Central Plain’s Cement Company facility in Sugar Creek Missouri with the metal nonmetal mining community, where I and others here today will be attending.

MSHA will be training all mine rescue teams on how to use the new mine rescue communications technology starting in January, 2016.

MSHA, working with the mining community has also made significant improvements in training of our mine rescue teams.

Following input from the mine rescue community, we updated mine rescue team certification criteria by revising the IG 7 - Advanced Mine Rescue Training (Coal Mines). We also developed IG 7a - Advanced Skills Training (AST) Activities also for coal mine rescue Teams. These added new skills training components to better prepare our mine rescue teams.

We have reformed the coal and metal and nonmetal national mine rescue contests, which are so vital in training and testing the skills of those who could be called upon at a moment’s notice to respond to a mine emergency.

I want to thank the National Mining Association for assisting with and sponsoring the 2011 and 2013 Coal National Mine Rescue Contests, and the Nevada Mine Rescue Association and the Central KY Mine Rescue Association for assisting with the sponsoring of the 2013 and 2014 National metal and non metal Mine Rescue Contests.

I understand the Holmes Mine Rescue Association will take the lead for the National Coal Mine Rescue Contests in 2017, working with MSHA, and there will be broader participation by industry, States, and Labor on all committees.

One of my visions for mine rescue was to have MSHA Mine Emergency Operations (MEO) stations across the country the agency could respond to emergencies more quickly. We have realized that vision with the opening of the MEO Station in Madisonville, KY in September, 2015 to provide coverage in the midwest for both the coal and metal nonmetal mining industry. The Madisonville station joins our three other functioning MEO stations in the United States located in Pittsburgh, PA; Beckley, WV; and Price, UT/Denver, CO.

MSHA has been working with industry to upgrade mine emergency technologies to support and improve mine rescue capabilities, including atmospheric monitoring and mobile gas chromatograph laboratories, and improved surface and underground communications.

MSHA as well as a number of states and mining companies has invested in upgrading mine emergency response equipment and vehicles, to better prepare for mine emergencies. These are being equipped with state of the art systems to manage data and information, mapping of mine rescue operations and communications.

MSHA is conducting joint MERD training involving MSHA, States, Companies, and Labor, and we plan to do more of those.

MSHA launched an effort to develop tools to perform mine emergency risk assessments and readiness assessments for companies, mine rescue teams, and responsible persons.

Two years ago, the Mine Safety and Health Administration set aside October 30th as National Mine Rescue Day – a day dedicated to recognizing and honoring the dedication and sacrifice of mine rescuers – past, present and future. The date was chosen for its historic significance: On October 30th, 1911, the first national mine rescue demonstration was held at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. It was organized by Dr. Joseph A. Holmes, a visionary in mine safety and the first director of the U.S. Bureau of Mines. Among the 15,000 spectators was President William Howard Taft.

I encourage you to visit our site at msha.gov/minerescueday to learn more -- and to use some of the videos, graphics and resources we created to join us in spreading the word about National Mine Rescue Day.

As we go forward we still have much more work to do. Next steps are to work with the National Holmes Mine Rescue Association to develop up-to-date guidance for mine rescue that will also address shortcomings identified and new application of the new technologies that will change the face of mine rescue.

We will begin the process of training mine rescue teams on the use of the new state-of -the art communications, tracking, mapping and atmospheric monitoring devices and systems, beginning in early 2016.

MSHA is continually pursuing advanced equipment to increase the probability of success of mine rescues as well as protect mine rescue team members. We are working internally and with labs, corporations, and universities to develop robots, drones, video cams for teams and to develop improved seismic location/detection equipment for MEO operations.

We will continue our research and development of improved technologies to assist mine rescue and recovery operations. Those include development of a helmet camera worn by advancing rescue teams that will allow the command center to see the rescue and recovery exploration in real time and expedite the decision-making process and the rescue efforts. We are also upgrading our seismic technologies to better detect where miners are located underground following mine emergencies. We plan to work on development of robotic devices that will enable explorations of mines following emergencies where risks are high for mine rescue teams.

Together, we have made much progress on the path of improving our preparedness for mine emergency response. Our nation's miners and those who volunteer for some of the most dangerous emergency response undertaken deserve no less. We still have more work to do and the National Holmes Mine Rescue Association has now been created to help sustain that progress and lead the way.