WVHTC Foundation News

WVHTC Foundation Requests MSHA Review Ground-Penetrating Technology Designed to Locate Miners
WHEELING, W.Va. March 15, 2006 The West Virginia High Technology Consortium (WVHTC) Foundation has requested the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) review a promising new ground-penetrating technology for quickly locating and communicating with missing underground coal miners.
James L. Estep, WVHTC Foundation president and chief executive officer, today said the organization's Wheeling branch has been working with Mercury Data Systems, Greensboro, N.C., to modify an existing technology for locating missing personnel in a Global Positioning System (GPS)-denied environment so it can find coal miners missing under ground.
"Both the Foundation's Emergency Technologies Program (ERT) and the U.S. Department of Defense have examined Mercury's existing tracking device and found it to possibly be the core technology for tracking and communicating with underground miners," Estep said.
"Because of the recent mining tragedies in our state, we want to bring this technology to MSHA's immediate attention. Therefore, we have sent a letter to MSHA that explains the technology and requests the agency review Mercury's system."

U.S. Rep. Alan B. Mollohan, D-W.Va., created the ERT Program to advance technologies that can assist emergency first responders. The ERT Program's advisory board, consisting of senior emergency response officials from throughout the U.S., determined the top need is for a fast and accurate system to locate missing first responders.
John Taylor, Mercury Data System president, said the original tracking technology, TrakPoint, was developed for locating personnel where no line-of-site tracking GPS was available.
"Now, we have an opportunity to convert that technology into one that could very well locate miners during underground emergencies," Taylor said. "The ERT Program has made and continues to make great strides to help those who put their very lives on the line for others. Hopefully, our technology may be the key to unlock this long-time need to locate missing people."
Mercury's underground tracking system would equip miners with a small battery-powered transmitter about half the size of most cell phones, which would emit a signal for rescuers to follow. Company officials expect the system to be accurate to within six feet and would enable rescuers to locate miners through radio frequency signals and/or an Inertial Navigation System.
The ERT Program's testing was conducted last fall at the Mock Disaster staged at the former West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville. TrakPoint received high praise there from several nationally recognized firefighting experts who reviewed the product.
The annual Mock Disaster, sponsored by the WVHTC Foundation, provides rescuers and firefighters from throughout the U.S. with numerous disaster scenarios for training. In addition, it provides companies the opportunity to test and/or demonstrate their rescue equipment in real-life disaster environments.
The WVHTC Foundation's Wheeling office holds agreements with various federal agencies, universities and private enterprises to determine the viability of new technologies and works to have them commercialized.
"The Foundation has made great strides in its ability to test and help commercialize new technologies such as this," Taylor said. "It is providing a great service not only to West Virginia, but the entire nation by quickly determining viability of a new product and advancing it to the marketplace.

The WVHTC Foundation, headquartered in Fairmont, 501(c) (3) non-profit organization functioning as an engine of economic change for growing a regional and statewide high-tech business sector. The foundation has established a multi-faceted approach to maximize economic development, commercialization and workforce development.