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Kentucky, West Virginia Mines Try RFID Combined With Telecommunications

To improve safety, the mines are adopting or testing systems that use Axcess International's active RFID tags and readers, integrated with communications technologies from Tunnel Radio or Foundation Telecommunications Inc.
By Claire Swedberg
The UltraComm-MineAx system is especially effective, Rose says, in situations in which miners lack specific information, such as which shafts are clear, or which have collapsed or contain fires. In such a case, a dispatcher can determine where the miners are located on the display and, based on information about a fire or collapse, call them and describe what they must do to reach safety.

The system does not always provide real-time data, Rose says, but instead pinpoints the location of the most recent RFID transmission—that is, when the miner last came within range of an RFID reader, and which reader it was. Based on the sequence of transmissions, he explains, as well as information regarding the miner's work assignment for that day, dispatchers can approximate that miner's location.

Tunnel Radio software also allows a user to pull up manifests listing who is in a particular tunnel at any given time, Rose says, and who has recently entered or exited. During an evacuation, for example, a manager can watch names leave the "in" manifest and appear in the "out" manifest.

Rose has been at mines when accidents have occurred, he says, noting, "The first thing managers ask is, 'Who's in?'" At any given time, a mining company may have employees, contractors, electricians, inspectors and various other visitors within its tunnels. "If everyone is electronically tracked, you have a really good idea of who is where," he says.

Tunnel Radio is providing the MineAx Bird Dog system to existing customers using the two-way radio system, and also has some new customers for the combined solution. "We're a one-stop shop, and people really like that," Rose states. Some mines span as much as 80 miles, he says, and the system can transmit data throughout their length. The system has received the requisite Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and State of West Virginia approvals for operating in that state's mines.

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