Case Study - Optimizing Mining Operations & Safety

ALTS was retained by the Philippine Mine Safety and Environment Association to conduct a case study for the mining industry in order to demonstrate how computer simulation can be beneficial to the mining industry. The purpose of this paper is to discuss this computer simulation and to illustrate the difference in outcome for a mining operation with an optimized response versus a non-optimized response to a partial tailings dam collapse.

Simulation Model

The mining operation that was modeled was a completely fictitious gold mining operation based on a hybrid of a number of mining companies operating in the Baguio area of the Philippines. The reason for the fictitious operation rather than a real operation was that the authors wanted to create a generic mining simulation model that all mining companies could study and learn from. While fictitious, the parameters and characteristics of the mining operations are fairly representative of a typical company. The computer simulation is also flexible enough to model any mining operation in detail and could easily be adapted to model a real mining company.

The scenario chosen was a partial tailings dam collapse as this has occurred frequently in standard mining operations and these types of failures cause serious reputational harm to the industry. A partial collapse was chosen in order to create a more difficult scenario that requires a timely response and also to highlight how minor preparation and training can greatly improve the outcome and reduce losses during an incident.

The previous two weeks leading up to the incident included heavy rainfalls due to monsoon rains coupled with a typhoon. This situation has created extreme runoff, slumping and landslides in other areas nearby. At the mining site, the runoff has caused the diversion channels to operate at capacity and the high volume of water has eroded the eastern channel and caused it to impinge on the dam itself. This led to a partial collapse of the dam at approximately 5pm and the release of a volume of tailings down the hillside. Without immediate intervention, the partial collapse could lead to a total collapse and possibly kill or injure residents in the village, below. In order to create a situation where the optimized versus non-optimized operations could be easily compared, we assumed that neither scenario suffered a total dam collapse.

Computer Simulation Setup

The mine site, dam, tailings pond and diversion channels were all modeled similar to a typical mining operation. Approximately 100 vehicle entities were modeled, including personal cars, vans and motorcycles as would typically be found in a mountain town. The 1200 Naguey village residents were modeled, including five non-mobile people in wheelchairs. At the mine site we modeled the two buildings, 20 workers and two bucket (front-end) loaders. The tailings dam was set to begin leaking at 5pm, as per the scenario. Once the simulation was fully built, we cloned the simulation to create an Optimized Response simulation and a Non-Optimized Response simulation. These two simulations were then run dozens of times to remove any statistical anomalies and the aggregated results of the different approaches are described below. A video was also created from the non-optimized response.

Lessons Learned

A number of lessons were derived from the computer simulation comparison that can broadly be applied to the mining industry. These are:

1. Analyze your risks and take action. If you don’t know what your risks are, you won’t be prepared to deal with them. If you don’t have a realistic and effective way to mitigate your risks, then you aren’t mitigating them.

2. Create realistic response plans. Rare but impactful events do sometimes occur. Build and test your response plans so you know they will be effective

3. Practice Makes Perfect. If you want an operation to go well, you have to practice frequently to get good at it. If you don’t practice, you can be sure that your response will not be effective. Computer simulation is ideal for practicing complex situations.

4. Communication is key. Ensure you have communications and back up communications that you test regularly. If you can’t communicate you won’t know what is going on and you won’t be able to contribute to success or failure.

5. Coordinate. Ensure all stakeholders, including the community, the government and private industry all know what needs to happen during an emergency. Everyone has a role to play.

6. Know who you are working with. Ensure you know who your counterparts are and have their contact information. The time to discover who’s who is NOT during an emergency.

7. Pre-plan as much as you can. The more that you pre-plan, the easier and faster the response during an emergency. Consider standing offers with guaranteed response times and other measures.

8. Have a plan to track who/what is where and what’s going on. Chaos reigns during an emergency so take positive steps to manage and keep your people safe. Have a map and a whiteboard so you can keep track of what’s happening and where critical equipment is located. Keep a log of what happened at what time.

9. Take ICS training. The Incident Command System will give key staff the knowledge and vocabulary needed to work closely with government agencies and smoothly escalate a situation if needed.

10. Get help. There are several companies that can help you prepare for incidents, understand and manage your risk, and help you to train your personnel so that the next incident doesn’t cripple your company.

11. Risks Change. Risks and incident management in your business most often is an ever-changing and evolving need. Implement policies and procedures and use tools that will help with your ability and agility to optimize planning, response and recovery.


Rare but impactful events represent considerable risk to mining companies. Tailing dam collapses happen too frequently for comfort for the public and there are demands to further regulate the industry for public safety. It doesn’t have to be this way. Tools and technology exist now that can help mining companies to model and understand their risk, to prepare accurate, effective, and fully tested emergency response plans, and to train key staff and leaders to manage any type of incident or emergency.

Preparation is an investment and is proven to save money during a response. The return on investment for preparation, according to the United Nations, is 60 to 1. There are few other activities that a company can do that provide a 6000% return on investment, but preparation is one of these. With well-tested processes, plans and procedures a company can mitigate a major disaster into a minor incident through timely response. With well-trained and well-practiced staff, an incident can be managed smoothly, and when coordinated with local communities, provide a comprehensive and effective response.

Finally, computer simulation is an effective tool to help companies plan and practice their response. It can help model infrequent, high-impact events, develop and test effective plans and conduct exciting and highly realistic training for leaders and key staff.

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