Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lessons on Leadership and Teamwork -- from 700 Meters Below the Earth’s Surface

Lessons on Leadership and Teamwork -- from 700 Meters Below the Earth’s Surface

“We are well, the 33 of us, in the shelter.” These words, written on a small piece of paper, created euphoria in Chile in early August and restored hope to the families of the 33 miners trapped in the San José copper mine in the heart of the Atacama Desert.

The note emerged from a duct that is now used for communication with rescuers and for sending food and medicine to the miners, who are trapped 700 meters (nearly 2,300 feet) below the earth’s surface in a small emergency shelter.

When the good news came to the outside that the miners were alive, a team led by engineer Andrés Sougarret labored to find the best alternative for reaching the tunnel of barely 30 square meters. The team was helped by experts in psychology, sociology, engineering and nutrition and by officials from NASA, who deal with similar situations of isolation encountered by astronauts.

At first, it was estimated that the team would need four months for the rescue. Now, however, the Chilean government believes that it could extract the first miners in October, thanks to a tunneling machine able to drill through the surface of the earth.

Images recorded by the miners themselves have made clear the extreme conditions they are living under, and which they will have to bear until the rescue materializes: temperatures of up to 35 degrees Centigrade (95 degrees Fahrenheit); environmental humidity of 90% and rationing of food. Above all, it has become obvious that the miners are well organized.

From the moment of the accident, they divided the shelter into zones devoted to an infirmary, recreational activity, food and dormitories. Some have assumed leadership positions that make survival possible. For example, Luis Urzúa Iribarren, who headed the shift of workers, assigned various roles to the other miners.

One miner, Mario Sepulveda, received and handled cases of food and medication that arrived from outside the mine. From the outset, Victor Segovia wrote down everything that happened during and after August 5, the day of the disaster.

The skills and leadership exhibited by the miners will be crucial to their survival, experts say.


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