Report: APP CMHS Project 1

CSIRO advises that the information contained in this comprises general statements based on scientific research. The reader is advised and needs to be aware that such information may be incomplete or unable to be used in any specific situation. No reliance or actions must therefore be made on that information without seeking prior expert professional, scientific and technical advice. To the extent permitted by law, CSIRO (including its employees and consultants) excludes all liability to any person for any consequences, including but not limited to all losses, damages, costs, expenses and any other compensation, arising directly or indirectly from using this publication (in part or in whole) and any information or material contained in it.

3.6.5. Communication

Current Technologies

A comprehensive survey of underground coal mine communication has been published in December 2009 by Coal USA Magazine. Many of the USA technologies have been covered and details of the survey can be found in Appendix F. In October 2009, CSIRO has submitted a report for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) (CSIRO Internal Report No. P2008/2678), which evaluates various options for underground communication during routine production and emergency conditions such as voice over internet protocol (VoIP) telephones and provides a comparative assessment of the CSIRO proposed communication infrastructure which could be implemented using readily available off-the-shelf equipment.

Current mine communication technologies in USA underground coal mines are similar to those in Australia; such as DACs for personal communications, PED and the ‘Impact Digital Communication’ system provided by Mine Site Technologies. Northern Light Technologies offer Northern Light DigitalTM Network which supports VoIP and data communication through IS wireless access points, WIFI and RFID people and vehicle tracking, and a cap-lamp-powered wireless messaging system. Details of the technologies are described in Section 3.1.9 of this report.

As a result of a number of emergency conditions resulting in multiple fatalities, MSHA requires that all mines have a means of communicating with workers underground in the event of an explosion. A Program Policy Letter P09-V-01 sets out a range of requirements of such a system and the date for implementation. It includes such factors as:

  • Two way communication and Tracking systems

  • Coverage

  • Survivability

  • Maintenance

MSHA evaluated and performed field testing of six (6) communication and/or tracking systems. All but one system that was tested were prototypes and are not currently commercially available. The systems operated using one of the following technologies (in no particular order):

  • medium frequency radio (<3 MHz)

  • ultra-wide band radio

  • very low frequency (<10 kHz), through-the-earth

  • wireless mesh network (IEEE 802.11b or 802.15.4 standards)

Field testing was conducted to determine:

  • how well signals propagate (maximum distance between nodes)

  • how much overburden systems can penetrate if capable of through-the-earth communication

  • mine coverage area (i.e. are there blind spots and why?)

  • accuracy of tracking features

  • if interference would be an issue

A wide range of compliance systems can be viewed at: Of particular interest is the forthcoming introduction of electronic tagging and VOIP phones as previously covered in the Australian section.

Application Sites

The communication technologies are applicable to all underground coal mines. There is a strong demand and implementation process underway in the US underground coal mining sector with a similar demand from other countries. Of particular significance is the MinePhone, person/vehicle proximity detection and emergency communication systems.

Technology Gaps/Needs

The following points summarise not only technology needs, but also the development actions being undertaken by the technology suppliers.

  • Full implementation and operation of VoIP phones with tracking integration.

  • MinePhone broadcasting to Voicecomm systems.

  • Full integration with other equipment in the mine – such as conveyor belt status.

  • High definition tracking on longwall faces, personnel and equipment proximity detection

  • Real-time monitoring and coordination network to allow all wireless objects (fleet and/or personnel) to be located (to provide localisation and two-way communications between vehicles and the base station.

  • GPS capability via MinePhone.

  • Reliable emergency communication technology.

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