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Arch Coal conducts emergency drill

Erwin Sass, John Urosek and Garth Nielson perform a mock media briefing during the Arch training.
John Urosek and Greg Schaefer give a briefing at Wellington City Hall for media personnel.
Mine rescue employee Andy Tweddell give the media insight into what a rescuer experiences inside of a mine full of smoke and debris.

Sun Advocate community editor

For one full day on Oct. 2 more than 150 federal and state officials, miners, law enforcement, emergency responders and other mine personnel conducted a mock safety drill to test skills that could one day save a life. Taking place at the Dugout Canyon Mine the mock disaster was pulled together by Arch Coal, (Dugout's parent company), and the Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration.

"The scenario that we are going to play out this morning at around 4 a.m. there was smoke detected in the mine," said Arch Coal public relation contact Greg Schaefer. "The mine was then ordered to be evacuated and then once we got clearance we found that 10 employees were still trapped within the mine, or unaccounted for I guess is the better term. So in any case that is the scenario"

Arch planned to have updates available to the press and families of the "trapped" miners every hour and brought in 10 mine rescue squads from all over the country to train in the disaster setting.

While the press was invited to the event, mock press officials were also in attendance to test the mine managers and safety officials throughout the mock crisis.

"The mock press is for exposure to our employees concerning the difficulties of setting up a situation and then accurately conveying information to the press," continued Schaefer.

The Arch group set up a media center at Wellington City Hall and also set up a family center several miles from the media post.

"We have the families secluded in a different area and they are provided updates a few minutes before any information is given to the press," he explained.

In addition to the expanded informational areas the mine personnel set up a command post near the mine in conjunction with local, state and federal emergency management teams.

Working closely with Arch on the safety drill was Chief of Mine Emergency Operations for MSHA, John Urosek.

"We would work closely with a mine in the event of a real disaster so it would only make sense that we would be involved with this type of safety drill," said Urosek. "We have some new equipment here, some we have brought from back east including an robot that we are in the process of updating, we are also in the process of testing a new product for communications. It is our hope that we can find the faults in this equipment now and make the necessary improvements for when these technologies are needed in a real situation."

Both Schaefer and Urosek concurred that this type of training is invaluable, because while most of the newly deployed equipment was working rather well, they were finding glitches that will only help in future situations.

Following the briefing at city hall both media and mine personnel were shuttled to the mine portal, where after several checks were made confirming their credentials, they were given the opportunity to speak with the mine manager, Erwin Sass and the rescue teams who had been working drills within the mine.

"This is great training," said 13 year mine rescue veteran Andy Tweddell. "There is no better experience than what is being provided right here. It is my feeling that our mines continue to get safer and safer and technology and training improves. This training was the most realistic I have participated in."

According to Tweddell, the first section of rescuers participated in a competition consisting of a map evaluation with smoke looking for two of the unaccounted for miners.

"The ultimate goal is to find these men and get them out. We were fortunate enough to find the men we were looking for and map out the whole area despite the heavy smoke, I just can't make it clear enough how realistic the situation was," explained Tweddell.

His sentiments were echoed by state official Garth Nielsen.

"Dispatch notified everyone that this was only a drill and from that point forward we treated this situation as if it were a real mine disaster," he said. "The local ambulance services were given the opportunity to treat several different types of injuries that once might see during this type of mine incident."

Following Nielsen's comments, Urosek of MSHA gave more detail about the technology available from the agencies new robot.

"This machine has the capability to give eyes and ears for the rescuers, it really is quite amazing," said Urosek.

The robots functions include:

•A robotic arm for moving debris and other objects.

•Noxious gas detection equipment.

•The ability to traverse rough terrain.

•And several cameras giving a real time look at the environment.

The current robot can operate on a 4,000 ft fiber optic cable. MSHA officials pointed out however, that a 10,000 ft model should be available soon.

While the St. Louis based Arch Coal is one of the nations largest coal producers, supplying almost 6 percent of the total electricity generated in the United States It's lost time safety incident rate was three times better than the industry average in 2007.

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