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Emergency Preparedness

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Mine emergencies often occur as the result of a lack of systems, or failures in existing systems, to limit, control or prevent circumstances that trigger incidents which, when ineffectively managed, lead to disasters. An emergency may then be defined as an unplanned event that impacts upon the safety or welfare of personnel, or the continuity of operations, which requires an effective and timely response in order to contain, control or mitigate the situation.

All forms of mining operations have particular hazards and risks that may lead to an emergency situation. Hazards in underground coal mining include methane liberation and coal dust generation, high-energy mining systems and coal’s propensity to spontaneous combustion. Emergencies can occur in underground metalliferous mining due to strata failure (rock bursts, rock falls, hangingwall and pillar failures), unplanned initiation of explosives and sulphide ore dusts. Surface mining operations involve risks relating to, large-scale high-speed mobile equipment, unplanned initiation of explosives, and slope stability. Hazardous chemical exposure, spill or leak, and tailing dam failure can take place in minerals processing.

Good mining and operational practices have evolved that incorporate relevant measures to control or mitigate these risks. However, mine disasters continue to occur regularly throughout the world, even though formal risk management techniques have been adopted in some countries as a pro-active strategy to improve mine safety and reduce the likelihood and consequence of mine emergencies.

Accident investigations and inquiries continue to identify failures to apply the lessons of the past and failures to apply effective barriers and control measures to known hazards and risks. These failures are often compounded by a lack of adequate measures to intervene, control and manage the emergency situation.

This article outlines an approach to emergency preparedness that can be utilized as a framework to both control and mitigate mining hazards and risks and to develop effective measures to ensure control of the emergency and the continuity of mine operations.

Emergency Preparedness Management System

The emergency preparedness management system proposed comprises an integrated systems approach to the prevention and management of emergencies. It includes:

  • organizational intent and commitment (corporate policy, management commitment and leadership)
  • risk management (identification, assessment and control of hazards and risks)
  • definition of measures to manage an unplanned event, incident or emergency
  • definition of emergency organization (strategies, structure, staffing, skills, systems and procedures)
  • provision of facilities, equipment, supplies and materials
  • training of personnel in the identification, containment and notification of incidents and their roles in the mobilization, deployment and post-incident activities
  • evaluation and enhancement of the overall system through regular auditing procedures and trials
  • periodic risk and capability reassessment
  • critique and evaluation of the response in the event of an emergency, coupled with necessary system enhancement.


Incorporation of emergency preparedness within the ISO 9000 quality management system framework provides a structured approach to contain and control emergency situations in a timely, effective and safe manner.

Organizational Intent and Commitment

Few people will be convinced of the need for emergency preparedness unless a potential danger is recognized and it is seen as directly threatening, highly possible if not probable and likely to occur in a relatively short time span. However, the nature of emergencies is that this recognition generally does not occur prior to the event or is rationalized as non-threatening. The lack of adequate systems, or failures in existing systems, results in an incident or emergency situation.

Commitment to and investment in effective emergency preparedness planning provides an organization with the capability, expertise and systems to provide a safe work environment, meet moral and legal obligations and enhance prospects for business continuity in an emergency. In coal mine fires and explosions, including non-fatal incidents, business continuity losses are often significant due to the extent of damage, the type and nature of control measures employed or even loss of the mine. Investigative processes also impact considerably. Failure to have effective measures in place to manage and control an incident will further compound overall losses.

Development and implementation of an effective emergency preparedness system requires management leadership, commitment and support. Consequently it will be necessary to:

  • provide and ensure continuing management leadership, commitment and support
  • establish long-term goals and purpose
  • guarantee financial support
  • guarantee availability of personnel and their access to and involvement in training
  • provide appropriate organizational resources to develop, implement and maintain the system.


The necessary leadership and commitment can be demonstrated through the appointment of an experienced, capable and highly respected officer as Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, with the authority to ensure participation and cooperation at all levels and within all units of the organization. Formation of an Emergency Preparedness Planning Committee, under the Coordinator’s leadership, will provide the necessary resources to plan, organize and implement an integrated and effective emergency preparedness capability throughout the organization.

Risk Assessment

The risk management process enables the type of risks facing the organization to be identified and analysed to determine the likelihood and the consequence of their occurrence. This framework then enables the risks to be assessed against established criteria to determine if the risks are acceptable or what form of treatment must be applied to reduce those risks (e.g., reducing likelihood of occurrence, reducing consequence of occurrence, transferring all or part of the risks or avoiding the risks). Targeted implementation plans are then developed, implemented and managed to control the identified risks.

This framework can be similarly applied to develop emergency plans that enable effective controls to be implemented, should a contingent situation arise. Identification and analysis of risks enables likely scenarios to be predicted with a high degree of accuracy. Control measures can then be identified to address each of the recognized emergency scenarios, which then form the basis of emergency preparedness strategies.

Scenarios that are likely to be identified may include some or all of those listed in table 1. Alternatively national standards, such as the Australian Standard AS/NZS 4360: 1995—Risk Management, may provide a listing of generic sources of risk, other classifications of risk, and the areas of impact of risk that provides a comprehensive structure for hazard analysis in emergency preparedness.

Table 1. Critical elements/sub-elements of emergency preparedness


  • Underground
  • Plant and surface
  • Bushfires
  • Community
  • Vehicle


Chemical spills/leaks

  • Oil spills
  • Ruptured gas main
  • Containment of spill
  • Offsite/onsite
  • Storage capabilities



  • Onsite
  • Multiple
  • Fatal
  • Critical


Natural disasters

  • Flooding
  • Cyclone
  • Earthquake
  • Severe storm
  • Ruptured dam
  • Mud or land slide


Community evacuation

  • Planned
  • Unplanned


  • Dust
  • Chemicals
  • Blasting agents
  • Petroleum
  • Nitrogen
  • Gas line explosion


Civil disturbance

  • Strike
  • Protest
  • Bomb threat
  • Kidnap/extortion
  • Sabotage
  • Other threats


Power failure

  • Electrical blackout
  • Gas shortage
  • Water shortage
  • Communication systems


Water in-rush

  • Exploration drill hole
  • Bulkheads
  • Pillar failure
  • Unplanned holing of old workings
  • Tailings
  • Ruptured dam
  • Fractured ground
  • Water main failure


  • Heat/cold
  • Noise
  • Vibration
  • Radiation
  • Chemical
  • Biological



  • Air pollution
  • Water pollution
  • Soil pollution
  • Waste material (disposal



  • Underground
  • Surface subsidence
  • Highwall failure/slip
  • Surface excavation
  • Structural (building)



  • Automobile accident
  • Train accident
  • Boat/shipping accident
  • Aeroplane accident
  • Hazardous materials in
    transport accident



  • System/resources
  • Unplanned

Source: Mines Accident Prevention Association Ontario (undated).

Emergency Control Measures and Strategies

Three levels of response measures should be identified, evaluated and developed within the emergency preparedness system. Individual or primary response comprises the actions of individuals upon the identification of hazardous situations or an incident, including:

  • notifying appropriate supervisors, controllers or management personnel of the situation, circumstances or incident
  • containment (basic fire-fighting, life support or extrication)
  • evacuation, escape or refuge.


Secondary response comprises the actions of trained responders upon notification of the incident, including fire teams, search and rescue teams and special casualty access teams (SCAT), all utilizing advanced skills, competencies and equipment.

Tertiary response comprises the deployment of specialized systems, equipment and technologies in situations where primary and secondary response cannot be safely or effectively utilized, including:

  • personnel locating devices and seismic event detectors
  • large diameter borehole rescue
  • inertization, remote sealing or flooding
  • surveillance/exploration vehicles and systems (e.g., borehole cameras and atmospheric sampling).


Defining the Emergency Organization

Emergency conditions grow more serious the longer the situation is allowed to proceed. Onsite personnel must be prepared to respond appropriately to emergencies. A multitude of activities must be coordinated and managed to ensure that the situation is rapidly and effectively controlled.

Emergency organization provides a structured framework that defines and integrates the emergency strategies, management structure (or chain of command), personnel resources, roles and responsibilities, equipment and facilities, systems and procedures. It encompasses all phases of an emergency, from the initial identification and containment activities, to notification, mobilization, deployment and recovery (re-establishment of normal operations).

The emergency organization should address a number of key elements, including:

  • capability for primary and secondary response to an emergency
  • capability to manage and control an emergency
  • coordination and communications, including gathering, assessing and evaluating data, decision making and implementation
  • the breadth of procedures necessary for effective control, including identification and containment, notification and early reporting, declaration of an emergency, specific operational procedures, fire-fighting, evacuation, extrication and life support, monitoring and review
  • identification and assignment of key functional responsibilities
  • control, advisory, technical, administration and support services
  • transitional arrangements from normal to emergency operations in terms of lines of communication, authority levels, accountability, compliance, liaison and policy
  • capability and capacity to maintain emergency operations for an extended period and provide for shift changes
  • impact of organizational changes in an emergency situation, including supervision and control of personnel; re-allocation or re-assignment of personnel; motivation, commitment and discipline; role of experts and specialists, external agencies and corporate officers
  • contingency provisions to address situations such as those arising after hours or where key organizational members are unavailable or affected by the emergency
  • integration and deployment of tertiary response systems, equipment and technologies.


Emergency Facilities, Equipment and Materials

The nature, extent and scope of facilities, equipment and materials required to control and mitigate emergencies will be identified through application and extension of the risk management process and determination of the emergency control strategies. For example, a high-level risk of fire will necessitate the provision of adequate fire-fighting facilities and equipment. These would be deployed consistently with the risk profile. Similarly, the facilities, equipment and materials necessary to address effectively life support and first aid or evacuation, escape and rescue can be identified as illustrated in table 2.

Table 2. Emergency facilities, equipment and materials


Response level






Fire extinguishers, hydrants and hoses installed adjacent to high risk areas, such as conveyors, fuelling stations, electrical transformers and sub-stations, and on mobile equipment

Breathing apparatus and protective clothing provided in central areas to enable a “fire team” response with advanced apparatus such as foam generators and multiple hoses

Provision for remote sealing or inertization.

Life support and first aid

Life support, respiration and circulation

First aid, triage, stabilization and extrication

Paramedical, forensic, legal

Evacuation, escape and rescue

Provision of warning or notification systems, secure escapeways, oxygen-based self rescuers, lifelines and communication systems, availability of transportation vehicles

Provision of suitably equipped refuge chambers, trained and equipped mines rescue teams, personnel locating devices

Large diameter borehole rescue systems, inertization, purpose-designed rescue vehicles


Other facilities and equipment that may be necessary in an emergency include incident management and control facilities, employee and rescue muster areas, site security and access controls, facilities for next of kin and the media, materials and consumables, transport and logistics. These facilities and equipment are provided for prior to an incident. Recent mine emergencies have reinforced the necessity to focus on three specific infrastructure issues, refuge chambers, communications, and atmospheric monitoring.

Refuge chambers

Refuge chambers are being increasingly utilized as a means of enhancing escape and rescue of underground personnel. Some are designed to permit persons to be self-rescuers and communicate with the surface in safety; others have been designed to effect refuge for an extended period so as to permit assisted rescue.

The decision to install refuge chambers is dependent upon the overall escape and rescue system for the mine. The following factors need to be evaluated when considering the need for and design of refuges:

  • the likelihood of entrapment
  • the time taken for people underground to evacuate through the normal means of egress, which may be excessive in mines with extensive workings or difficult conditions such as low heights or steep grades
  • the capability of persons underground to escape unassisted (e.g., pre-existing medical conditions or fitness levels and injuries sustained in the incident)
  • the discipline required to maintain and utilize refuge chambers
  • the means to assist personnel to locate the refuge chambers in conditions of extremely low visibility and duress
  • the required resistance to explosions and fire
  • the necessary size and capacity
  • the services provided (e.g., ventilation/air purification, cooling, communications, sanitation, and sustenance)
  • the potential application of inertization as a control strategy
  • the options for final recovery of personnel (e.g., mine rescue teams and large diameter boreholes).



Communications infrastructure is generally in place in all mines to facilitate management and control of operations as well as contribute to the safety of the mine through calls for support. Unfortunately, the infrastructure is usually not robust enough to survive a significant fire or explosion, disrupting communication when it would be most beneficial. Furthermore conventional systems incorporate handsets which cannot be safely used with most breathing apparatus and are usually deployed in main intake airways adjacent to fixed plant, rather than in escapeways.

The need for post-incident communications should be closely evaluated. While it is preferable that a post-incident communications system is part of the pre-incident system, to enhance maintainability, cost and reliability, a stand-alone emergency communications system may be warranted. Regardless, the communications system should be integrated within the overall escape, rescue and emergency management strategies.

Atmospheric monitoring

Knowledge of conditions in a mine following an incident is essential to enable the most appropriate measures to control a situation to be identified and implemented and to assist escaping workers and protect rescuers. The need for post-incident atmospheric monitoring should be closely evaluated and systems should be provided that meet mine-specific needs, possibly incorporating:

  • the location and design of fixed station atmospheric and ventilation sampling points for normal and potentially abnormal atmospheric conditions
  • the maintenance of capabilities to analyse, trend and interpret the mine atmosphere, particularly where explosive mixtures may be present post-incident
  • modularization of tube-bundle systems around boreholes to minimize sampling delays and improve the system’s robustness
  • provision of systems to verify integrity of tube-bundle systems post-incident
  • utilization of gas chromatography where explosive mixtures are possible after the incident and rescuers may be required to enter the mine.


Emergency Preparedness Skills, Competencies and Training

The skills and competencies required to cope effectively with an emergency can be readily determined by identification of core risks and emergency control measures, development of emergency organization and procedures and identification of necessary facilities and equipment.

Emergency preparedness skills and competencies include not only planning and management of an emergency, but a diverse range of basic skills associated with the primary and secondary response initiatives that should be incorporated in a comprehensive training strategy, including:

  • the identification and containment of the incident (e.g., fire-fighting, life support, evacuation and extrication)
  • notification (e.g., radio and telephone procedures)
  • mobilization and deployment activities (e.g., search and rescue, fire-fighting, casualty management and recovering bodies).


The emergency preparedness system provides a framework for the development of an effective training strategy by identifying the necessity, extent and scope of specific, predictable and reliable workplace outcomes in an emergency situation and the underpinning competencies. The system includes:

  • a statement of intent that details why the necessary expertise, skills and competencies are to be developed and provides the organizational commitment and leadership to succeed
  • risk management and measures to manage emergencies that identify key content elements (e.g., fires, explosions, hazardous materials, unplanned movements and discharges, sabotage, bomb threats, security breaches, etc.)
  • a definition of the emergency organization (strategies, structure, staffing, skills, systems and procedures) that identifies who is to be trained, their role in an emergency and the necessary skills and competencies
  • identification of training resources that determines what aids, equipment, facilities and personnel are necessary
  • training of personnel in identification and containment, notification, mobilization, deployment and post-incident activities that develops the necessary skills and competency base
  • routine testing, evaluation and enhancement of the overall system, coupled with periodic risk and capability reassessment, that completes the learning process and ensures that an effective emergency preparedness system exists.


Emergency preparedness training can be structured into a number of categories as illustrated in table 3.

Table 3. Emergency preparedness training matrix

Training response level



Educational primary



Designed to ensure employees understand the nature of mine emergencies and how specific aspects of the overall emergency plan may involve or affect the individual, including primary response measures.

Skills and competencies to successfully complete specific procedures defined under the emergency response plans and the secondary response measures associated with specific emergency scenarios.

Development of skills and competencies necessary for the management and control of emergencies.

Knowledge and competence elements

  • Knowledge of key indicators of mine incidents
  • Knowledge of key indicators of mine incidents
  • Knowledge of key indicators of mine emergencies and detailed knowledge of trigger events to initiate emergency response
  • Environmental conditions following an incident (e.g., temperature, visibility and gases)
  • Ability to detect, monitor and evaluate environmental conditions following an incident (e.g., mine gases, ventilation, smoke)
  • Detailed knowledge of mine design, mine ventilation and monitoring systems
  • Ability to respond to adverse changes in environmental conditions (e.g., smoke, ventilation disruption)
  • Ability to assess and interpret changes to mine ventilation systems (e.g., destruction of stoppings, seals and air crossings, damage to main fans)
  • Ability to assess and interpret current information systems at the mine (e.g., ventilation and environmental monitoring data)
  • Ability to perform notification and communications required post-incident
  • Knowledge of response measures that can be used to manage and mitigate an emergency (e.g., fire-fighting, search and rescue, restoration of ventilation, first aid, triage and extrication)
  • Awareness of control measures that can be used to manage and mitigate an emergency
  • Knowledge of appropriate emergency response options to environmental conditions
  • Knowledge of roles and responsibilities of all mine personnel under the emergency response plans and the capability to perform their nominated role
  • Ability to operate and manage emergency response plans and procedures, conducting simulated emergencies
  • Awareness of use and limitations of escape apparatus, routes and systems
  • Awareness of use and limitations of escape apparatus, routes and systems (e.g., self-rescuers, refuge chambers, breathing apparatus)
  • Ability to implement emergency communications and protocols, both internally and externally
  • Knowledge of roles and responsibilities of all mine personnel under emergency response plans including specific roles and responsibilities
  • Ability to implement internal emergency communications and protocols
  • Capability of mine rescue and other emergency services and access support from these services
  • Possession of primary response skills and competencies associated with specific emergency scenarios (e.g., basic fire-fighting, life support, escape and refuge
  • Awareness of use and limitations of escape and rescue apparatus and systems (e.g., self-rescuers, refuge chambers, breathing apparatus)
  • Ability to establish and support critical incident team
  • Knowledge about mine rescue and other emergency services
  • Capability of mine rescue and other emergency services
  • Knowledge of the capability and deployment of tertiary response systems (e.g., locating systems, inertization, remote sealing, large diameter borehole rescue, mobile laboratories)
  • Participation in simulated emergencies
  • Initiation of call out and mutual assistance schemes
  • Ability to use specialist resources (e.g., paramedical, forensic, legal, critical incident stress debriefing, technologists)


  • Participating in simulated exercises and emergencies
  • Crisis management and leadership


Audit, Review and Evaluation

Audit and review processes need to be adopted to assess and evaluate the effectiveness of the overall emergency systems, procedures, facilities, maintenance programmes, equipment, training and individual competencies. The conduct of an audit or simulation provides, without exception, opportunities for improvement, constructive criticism and verification of satisfactory performance levels of key activities.

Every organization should test its overall emergency plan at least once per year for each operating shift. Critical elements of the plan, such as emergency power or remote alarm systems, should be tested separately and more frequently.

Two basic forms of auditing are available. Horizontal auditing involves the testing of small, specific elements of the overall emergency plan to identify deficiencies. Seemingly minor deficiencies could become critical in the event of an actual emergency. Examples of such elements and related deficiencies are listed in table 4. Vertical auditing tests multiple elements of a plan simultaneously through simulation of an emergency event. Activities such as activation of the plan, search and rescue procedures, life support, fire-fighting and the logistics related to an emergency response at a remote mine or facility can be audited in this manner.

Table 4. Examples of horizontal auditing of emergency plans



Indicators of incipient incident or event

Failure to recognize, notify, record and action

Alert/evacuation procedures

Employees unfamiliar with evacuation procedures

Donning of emergency respirators

Employees unfamiliar with respirators

Fire-fighting equipment

Fire extinguishers discharged, sprinkler heads painted over, fire hydrants concealed or buried

Emergency alarms

Alarms ignored

Gas testing instruments

Not regularly maintained, serviced or calibrated


Simulations may involve personnel from more than one department and perhaps personnel from other companies, mutual aid organizations, or even emergency services such as police and fire departments. Involvement of external emergency service organizations provides all parties with an invaluable opportunity to enhance and integrate emergency preparedness operations, procedures and equipment and tailor response capabilities to major risks and hazards at specific sites.

A formal critique should be conducted as soon as possible, preferably immediately following the audit or simulation. Recognition should be extended to those individuals or teams that performed well. Weaknesses must be described as specifically as possible and procedures reviewed to incorporate systemic improvements where necessary. Necessary changes must be implemented and performance must be monitored for improvements.

A sustained programme emphasizing planning, practice, discipline and teamwork are necessary elements of well-balanced simulations and training drills. Experience has proven repeatedly that every drill is a good drill; every drill is beneficial and presents opportunities to demonstrate strengths and expose areas that require improvement.

Periodic Risk and Capability Reassessment

Few risks remain static. Consequently, risks and the capability of control and emergency preparedness measures needs to be monitored and evaluated to ensure that changing circumstances (e.g., people, systems, processes, facilities or equipment) do not alter risk priorities or diminish system capabilities.


Emergencies are often regarded as unforeseen occurrences. However, in this day and age of advanced communication and technology there are few events that can be truly called unforeseen and few misfortunes that have not been already experienced. Newspapers, hazard alerts, accident statistics and technical reports all provide sound historical data and images of what the future may hold for the ill-prepared.

Still, the nature of emergencies changes as industry changes. Relying on techniques and emergency measures adopted from past experience will not always provide the same degree of security for future events.

Risk management provides a comprehensive and structured approach to the understanding of mine hazards and risks and the development of effective emergency response capabilities and systems. The process of risk management must be understood and continuously applied, particularly when deploying mine rescue personnel into a potentially hazardous or explosive environment.

Underpinning competent emergency preparedness is the training of all mine personnel in basic hazard awareness, the early recognition and notification of incipient incidents and trigger events and primary response and escape skills. Expectations-training under conditions of heat, humidity, smoke and low visibility is also essential. Failure to adequately train personnel in these basic skills has often been the difference between an incident and a disaster.

Training provides the mechanism for operationalizing emergency preparedness organization and planning. Integration of emergency preparedness within a quality systems framework coupled with routine auditing and simulation provides the mechanism to improve and enhance emergency preparedness.

The ILO Safety and Health in Mines Convention, 1955 (No. 176), and Recommendation, 1995 (No. 183), provide an overall framework for improving safety and health in mines. The emergency preparedness system proposed provides a methodology for achieving the outcomes identified in the Convention and Recommendation.

Acknowledgement: The assistance of Mr Paul MacKenzie-Wood, Manager Coal Mines Technical Services (Mines Rescue Service NSW, Australia) in the preparation and critique of this article is gratefully acknowledged.



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