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Mine ‘collapse’ ultimate test

Wednesday, 25th May, 2016

Police go over scenario information in the hope of freeing the 11 people trapped underground. PICTURE: Darrin Manuel Police go over scenario information in the hope of freeing the 11 people trapped underground. PICTURE: Darrin Manuel

By Darrin Manuel

It’s a March afternoon in Broken Hill. St Pat’s is just days away, the streets are abuzz with tourists ready to enjoy the city’s biggest weekend, and most people have finished work for the day.

Suddenly the city is rocked by a magnitude 4.0 earthquake. Various buildings suffer minor damage, a number of people report to hospital with injuries, but there are no fatalities or serious injuries.

Just as it appears that the city has pulled through largely unscathed, word begins to filter around town that the quake has triggered a collapse at the local mine, and there are 11 people trapped deep underground.

Among the trapped group are local workers, visiting university students, and a miner who is closely related to a shadow minister.

Before long, local officials, government bodies, and emergency services are bombarded with calls and requests from all parts of the world.

Family members are panicking, international media want details, the mine’s American owners want answers, and government departments are wading into the fray with their own agendas.

This is the high-pressure scenario that played out yesterday as emergency services took part in the rescue exercise ‘Broken Backs’.

The exercise was organised by the Far West Region Emergency Management Committee, and tested the city’s emergency and rescue teams’ ability to handle a large-scale disaster.

It was overseen by Region Emergency Management Officer, Greg McMahon, and observed by special guest Martin Boyle, who coordinated rescue efforts at the Beaconsfield mine collapse in Tasmania in 2006.

Mr McMahon said that all crews worked together well, and benefited from tackling the scenario and its associated complications throughout the day.

“It wasn’t a test, but I’m pretty confident that everyone got a bit out of it,” he said.

“I think everyone walked out better informed than when they walked in.”

As for the 11 people trapped underground, Mr McMahon said that only nine walked out alive, however that was not due to failure on behalf of those in attendance.

“Part of the scenario was that two died, it was a double dilemma,” he said.

“Just having to deal with the deceased miners, their recovery, their families and also those who were alive - we just wanted to flesh that out.”

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