The James Madison University Mine Action Information Center is celebrating 10 years of service to the mine-action community. Director Dennis Barlow looks back on 10 years of accomplishments.
We at the Center have seen and been a part of much that has transpired in the mine-action realm since that summer day in 1996 when the U.S. Department of Defense decided to create an independent clearinghouse for humanitarian-demining information. Having faith in the passion and dedication of those in an academic setting, they asked for this Center to be created not in a bustling metropolis like Washington or New York, but instead in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, at James Madison University.
Like everyone else, we’ve had our ups and downs, but we feel pretty good about the efforts we’ve made and the fruits grown and harvested from those efforts. Unlike many of the larger and more powerful organizations involved in mine action, the MAIC at JMU has played the role of junior partner. We understood early on that the United Nations, sovereign nations, regional agencies, global nongovernmental organizations and large corporations would rightly dominate the play of humanitarian mine action. But we also felt that a university, with a passionate altruism tempered by an abiding neutrality, could—nay, should—play an integral role.
So the MAIC was established as a public-policy center with a small central staff augmented by the part-time work of professors with key subject-matter expertise and students with unflagging energy and dedication. It has not been easy to maintain the balance of such a small vessel on a sea amid some very tall ships, but it certainly has been exciting.
As JMU reaches this milestone, we hope to be forgiven the egotism of looking back over our 10 years and reflecting on some of our accomplishments. I do this knowing that sometimes the tall ships catch most of the wind and make it harder for the smaller MAIC craft to unfurl its flag.
MAIC’s Far-reaching Impact
We’re proud to say that we have inspired many of our students to become part of the mine-action arena. Several of our students and interns have gone on to bigger and better things in a variety of mine-action or humanitarian organizations. Stacy Smith is now working for RONCO Consulting Corporation; Juan Carlos Ruan is at the Organization of American States; Keith Feigenbaum works for Science Applications International Corporation; Craig Finkelstein was the U.S. Department of State’s Humanitarian Demining Fellow; Kurt Chesko went to work for HALO Trust as a deminer in Afghanistan; and Erin Snider worked at Adopt-A-Minefield. Others are still looking for the right position: Sarah Sensamaust will move to Egypt in late summer 2006, where she will pursue a master’s degree at the American University in Cairo, and Owen Uscher is currently evaluating several offers related to mine-action organizations.
Keeping Up the Standard
The MAIC was instrumental in getting the International Mine Action Standards process under way and maintaining it. At a global conference convened by JMU in 1997, we highlighted standards as an agenda item, and the U.N. Mine Action Service stepped forward during that meeting to take the lead in establishing this very important program. Since then, JMU has convened focus groups, maintained the IMAS Web site, and worked with the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining in updating technical notes, modifications and additions to the standards.
In the initial development of the Information Management System for Mine Action, the MAIC played a primary role by providing information and advice, working with the GICHD, and hosting seminars to determine the requirements for a mine-action information system, subsequently helping to determine these requirements. The MAIC again worked closely with GICHD to define and fine-tune the need for and shape of casualty data within the framework of the IMSMA system.
Asking the Hard Questions
Journal of Mine Action staff, April 2001.
All photos courtesy of MAIC
Given the independent nature of the MAIC, we have been able to ask politically sensitive questions or raise controversial issues and provide a forum in which they could be debated. The Journal of Mine Action is now in its 10th year and a perusal of its index will indicate the breadth of topics covered. We note with pride that the JMA was cited over 100 times in the GICHD’s comprehensive book, A Guide to Mine Action. The JMA and many of the seminars and workshops convened by JMU have focused on specific themes and topics critical to the effectiveness of mine-action campaigns and programs. This same openness to ideas drives our vision related to Web-based polling questions and our non-refereed lessons-learned database.
A Portal to Mine-action Information
We’ve found that many in the mine-action community use the MAIC Web site as a gateway to mine-action information and resources. Not only does the MAIC maintain an up-to-date registry of mine-action organizations, but it furnishes links to every significant mine-action group in the world, reports significant mine-action news on a daily basis, distills an up-to-the-minute review of “what’s new” in mine action, and provides “help desk” access to those who want to know more about mine-action activities.
Top-level Training and Conferences
Of course, as a university-based organization, the MAIC at JMU has contributed as a source of mine-action training and education. Using UNICEF best practices, a JMU team of clinical psychologists and health educators wrote and developed a mine-risk education curriculum, which was implemented by the Women’s Union and the Committee for Public Education in Quang Tri province of Vietnam in 1999. We foresaw the need to revamp that curriculum to base it on community standards, while fostering collateral capacity-building projects in central Vietnam. The MAIC also sent a team of Geographic Information System professors to support the Southeast European Mapping Project and taught GIS skills to deminers in the Balkans. In May and June 2006, the Center conducted its fourth Mine Action Senior Managers Course for the United Nations Development Programme.
The MAIC hosts a conference in Miami on regional mine-action issues of Latin America.
Mine-action Software and Publications
The MAIC worked with an exceptionally motivated team of JMU students and professors to create various global information system products. The JMU GIS team first modified the best off-the-shelf geographical software packages to make the products user-friendly, then added mine-action features to make them useful to the field. The same team created the Spatial Data Information Center, a database of GIS-related products available to landmine-afflicted countries. This product was issued in concert with an educational database that offered a comprehensive, easy-to-use online geographical tutorial.
Over the years, the MAIC has produced various publications in addition to the Journal of Mine Action. In 1997, the MAIC was selected to produce the book Sustainable Humanitarian Demining, a compendium of trends, technologies and mine-action techniques. In 2001, the MAIC, in support of the U.S. State Department’s joint conference with Rotary International, produced the first primer on mine action, entitled The Landmine Action Smart Book, which is today in its second printing and was recently made available on the MAIC Web site.
From the beginning, JMU has been able to call on its resident sources of expertise to provide strong bases for mine-action policy, planning and operations. MAIC-produced studies have investigated such issues as critical-incident stress, operator requirements, the use of casualty data, the application of military skills to humanitarian demining, and planning and phasing of mine-action campaigns. JMU studies and surveys can be accessed on the MAIC Web site (see contact information below).
MAIC, the Catalyst
The MAIC has made many contributions to the mine-action community over the past 10 years, including holding conferences, providing training courses and producing various publications.
JMU’s MAIC is especially proud of the role it has played in facilitating partnerships and highlighting capabilities and contributions. Often, as in Bangkok or Miami, the MAIC has conducted conferences dedicated to bringing together various groups in a region who we felt could learn from each other. We try to spot these opportunities whenever we can and do our best to bring diverse groups closer together for integration and coordination. Such a meeting occurred in Tampa, Fla., in 2000, when militaries from 27 countries working on landmine clearance came together to share ideas and commonalities. It has also happened at every Senior Managers Course we have taught.
As I sit here and allow the sights and sensations of the past 10 years to drift by, I realize two things: that in spite of my efforts to do so, I cannot possibly recall more than a few of JMU’s achievements. Most of them are not measurable—ah yes, the final and ultimate obstacle to gauging effectiveness. They are indeed subjective and if I can quote a respected colleague, Hendrik Ehlers of Menschen gegen Minen, the effectiveness of our programs “can only be measured by the smiles on the faces” of a reclaimed people.
Secondly, our (all of us involved in mine action) efforts are indeed performing one action, one person, one event at a time, making the “whole” quite indiscernible from the component parts. Mine action is a little like looking at an American quilt. You can admire the details that go into its making, but when you step back to look at the whole, the component parts are lost in the overall beauty.
It is our hope that over the past decade we at the JMU MAIC have helped stitch this wonderful quilt together and that our contributions, as subjective as they may be, have helped give it shape, beauty and function.
Dennis Barlow, Director of the JMU MAIC since 1997, is a retired U.S. Army Colonel who previously was the Director of Humanitarian Policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the first leader of the Humanitarian Demining Task Force in the Pentagon. He has coordinated civil-military actions with NGOs and the United Nations in Panama, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kurdistan and Haiti.
Director, Mine Action Information Center
James Madison University
Modular Building, Room 119
Harrisonburg, VA 22807 / USA
Tel: +1 540 568 2756
Fax: +1 540 568 8176
Web site: http://maic.jmu.edu