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[imgcontainer right] [img:BigBranch.jpeg] [source]AP[/source] A year ago, emergency vehicles responded to a call from the Big Branch Mine about an accident. A mine explosion there killed 29 miners, but mine management waited 90 minutes before calling these responders. [/imgcontainer]
Tuesday will be the first anniversary of the explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch coal mine, the disaster that killed 29 men in the worst mine accident in 40 years.
Details continue to emerge about the methane and coal dust explosion at Upper Big Branch. This week, we learned much more about the mine management’s response to the disaster. NPR’s Howard Berkes tells us that Massey Energy waited a very long time before reporting what was obviously a major explosion.
First, Berkes reports, Massey waited 25 minutes before reporting the explosion to West Virginia’s Mine Industrial Rapid Response hotline. Regulations require that a mine operator report accidents within 15 minutes. Transcripts of the initial call also show that Massey management told the state that nobody was injured in the incident.
Moreover, Massey only called 9-1-1 90 minutes after the explosion. An hour and a half after the mine explodes, Massey gets around to dialing for emergency help in a disaster that killed 29 men.
This was a huge explosion, one that could be detected immediately at the mine fan, the huge fans that blow fresh air into the mines and are constantly monitored. The blast was so powerful that the fans reversed direction.
There was no mistake about what had happened, that this was as serious as things get in coal mining. But the company waited 25 minutes to call the mine rescue agency and 90 minutes to contact emergency responders.
It’s unlikely quick response from emergency units could have saved anyone. (However, a suit has been filed claiming that not all the miners died immediately.) The mine explosion was that deadly. But that’s hardly the point of Berkes’ story.
Near the end of the NPR report, the local emergency management director told Berkes that Massey’s slow response didn’t surprise him. “We have mines around here that are very cooperative and we have mines that are pretty tight-lipped,” said Greg Lay, who counted more than 80 mining operations in his county. “I would have to say that Massey has a history, with my experience, to be pretty tight-lipped when it comes to just anybody being on their property at all,” including emergency medical personnel.
Meanwhile, we notice that former Admiral Bob Inman, chairman of the Massey Energy board and chief company defender since the disaster, appeared this week at a University of Texas conference entitled “Crisis Management: Public Policy, Public Perception and Business Reality.” Inman, if shame permitted, addressed subjects such as, “What are our expectations for corporate social responsibility?”
We trust that Inman will impart rule #1 of crisis management to those who paid $25 for his wisdom: If your mine blows up and there are several dozen men missing underground, you don’t wait 90 minutes to call for an ambulance.
Massey Board Chair Inman also might want to explain about those coming to learn about “corporate social responsibility” about why his company “stood out among its peers” for receiving the highest number of serious violations of federal mine safety law, according to an industry report.
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