Liberty Lake company fashions GPS tracker for miners

LIBERTY LAKE, Wash. - As rescuers search for four missing miners following a massive explosion at a coal mine in West Virginia, a Liberty Lake company says their product could make future rescue attempts easier.

A total of 25 miners were killed in Monday's blast in Montcoal, West Virginia. Rescuers hope the four still missing are holed up in a safe room where four days of supplies are stashed. Locating the miners has been tough, but Liberty Lake's Venture Design Services says they've designed a product to do just that. It's called Minetracer and it uses GPS technology to track the miners under ground. "The best technologies, like ours, will allow precise locations of people underground," said Jim Barrett, senior mananger for Venture Design Services. "So what we do with our network is akin to building GPS networks below ground."Barrett says that in each mine running the system, every miner is given a GPS device with a unique signal specific to them. Sensors in the mine transmit to a computer above ground where each miner is in real time. Venture Design Services says the system is accurate to 75 feet. The computer's user interface even shows the names of the miners as they walk about the mine.Venture Design Services says the GPS devices could even act as a homing beacon during a rescue operation. "You see a list of all mobiles in the vicinity and as it gets closer and closer to one, it produces a louder beep," said Rod Nemitz, application specialist for Venture Design Services. "You could drop it down a hole and collect the mobiles nearby."It's a design that rescuers in West Virginia desperately need right now. "With this West Virginia disaster, they're not sure where the remaining four miners are located, and as a result they're not sure where to render aid, where to go to look," said Barrett. So as helpful and as vital as this technology might be, only 34 of the 491 coal mines in America have the system. "The difference between what you can do as a rescue operation as opposed to not having it, is a night and day difference," Barrett said. The entire GPS system costs anywhere from $250,000 to $500,0000. Barrett says it's a lot of money, but pales in comparison to the cost of other mining equipment.