Applying decades of experience with today's advancements in technology, underground mine safety practices have evolved significantly over the years. Operations have discovered it is imperative to have a contingency plan in place for the possibility of an event that could leave miners unable to evacuate. The necessity to supply a source of breathable air, isolated from the surrounding atmosphere, has led to the development of emergency refuge alternatives in countless underground facilities around the world.
Strata Worldwide first introduced its line of emergency refuge chambers in 2007 and was the first company to launch a completely powerless chamber into a United States coal mine. Strata focused heavily on the US coal mining industry in the early years, pioneering air-powered carbon dioxide scrubbers and fully inflatable chamber options.
Alongside these developments, the corporation also offered a steel walk-in design. These units were supported by mine power and compressed mine air and supplemented with on-board breathing air systems and back-up batteries.
Since their introduction, Strata has successfully deployed these powered chambers in over 22 countries around the world.
Beginning in early 2019, Strata adopted a new manufacturing process and transformed its line of steel-sided chambers. It introduced the next-generation emergency refuge chamber, the Strata ERCX, in May 2020.
The new design of the ERCX provides greater flexibility for custom configurations, and also implements many time-learned improvements for occupant safety and comfort.
The ERCX can be effectively deployed into all types of metal and non-metal underground mines, tunneling construction operations, chemical plants and at drill sites.
It is available in four standard sizes: 8-, 12-, 20- and 26-person, and has select base features and configurations. It also includes a comprehensive list of customer-preferred options, such as time duration selections (24, 36, 48 and 96 hours), which include supplies of on-board breathable air, carbon dioxide scrubbing, battery back-up and life-sustaining commodities.
As with the company's first-generation design, the ERCX has the available addition of an airlock entrance compartment, sectioned off from the main chamber, and containing an optional purge air system. The airlock and purge air help to safeguard the air quality inside the chamber by first flushing out contaminants potentially carried inside with the occupants.
A signature feature of Strata's refuge chambers are the robust wheel and towing packages they offer. These options can be included, with further choices of "extreme-duty" wheels and high-clearance wheels. The wheels and towing packages facilitate easier and safer movement of the chamber, enabling mines to tow the unit underground as opposed to dragging or requiring heavy machinery to lift and carry.
LIVE MONITORING & COMMUNICATIONS
Establishing connectivity to underground refuge shelters has been made possible thanks to new networking technologies that have opened communication channels and provided easier access to high-speed data transfer.
StrataConnect DigitalBRIDGE and StrataConnect DigitalBRIDGE Plus+ are flexible, cost-effective networking options to extend the mine's existing network infrastructure to the refuge chamber. Ethernet end-point devices located inside the chamber, as well as built-in chamber systems, can be connected via these networks to the mine's existing backbone.
DigitalBRIDGE is a point-to-multipoint Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) network which carries both high-speed Ethernet and 48- to 60VDC over a single coaxial cable.
DigitalBRIDGE Plus+ is a leaky feeder network which interfaces with the mine's fibre optics to carry high-speed Ethernet data, along with a full spectrum of VHF radio frequencies. This single-cable system also carries DC power and, for both DigitalBRIDGE and DigitalBRIDGE Plus, power can be inserted at any point and will travel through the network in both directions.
DigitalBRIDGE and DigitalBRIDGE Plus supply power to end-point devices located inside the chamber, eliminating drain on the main chamber batteries. Video streaming from onboard cameras, Wi-Fi connectivity for voice communications, atmospheric monitoring both inside and outside the chamber, pressure, humidity, and temperature readings are all possible solutions these systems can provide.
Routine maintenance monitoring to ensure operational readiness can be performed daily. This can save mines substantial time and money, as they have the ability to remotely monitor the chambers and ensure their continuing integrity.
Peace of Mind
Regardless of the emergency at hand, keeping lines of communication open to individuals underground will undoubtedly provide a level of comfort and reassurance as they await rescue. A real-time information feed from the chamber strengthens the safety and effectiveness of the rescue operation.
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