NIOSH – MRET Laboratory
Every year, about 60,000 men and women work deep underground on dangerous mining operations. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH)’s Office of Mine Safety and Health Resources works diligently to make mines safer, prevent disasters, and improve emergency response. For all this to happen, mine rescue teams and first responders must receive professional scenario training to execute emergency procedures quickly and safely. The more experience and training a team has significantly improves decision-making and saves lives. In dangerous, underground environments, a realistic, effective training curriculum may seem impossible. To solve this challenge, NIOSH incorporated visual and immersive technologies in its training and education programs.
NIOSH wanted a turnkey, immersive virtual reality system to support training, guidance, and practice situations. By consulting with Mechdyne, the ideal solution was created: a 360-degree virtual environment called the Mining Rescue and Escape Training (MRET) Laboratory. Big enough to fit a full mining rescue team (five people), the MRET provides a zero-consequence training environment for mineworkers and search-and-rescue teams. The virtual reality simulations have shortened the emergency response learning curve for new employees and accelerated retraining for existing teams. Not only do teams gain experience, researchers collect data in simulated emergencies impossible to replicate in the real world. As a result of training under more realistic conditions, research has found that the teams perform more efficiently. For example, teams that have realistic training in the MRET laboratory more easily find and extinguish difficult mine fires and can explore in heavy smoke, compared to less experienced teams who cannot.