UNMAS/GICHD Technology Workshop

by Nicole Neitzey [ Mine Action Information Center ]

This article highlights the United Nations Mine Action Service/Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining Technology Workshop held in September 2008 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Over 70 participants from 34 different  countries gathered in Geneva, Switzerland, in September to discuss the  technology issues facing the mine-action community today.
Over 70 participants from 34 different countries gathered in Geneva, Switzerland, in September to discuss the technology issues facing the mine-action community today.
Photo courtesy of GICHD

For three days in September 2008, the United Nations Mine Action Service and the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining cosponsored a workshop on mine-action technology at the GICHD offices in Geneva, Switzerland. This workshop was a follow-on to the first such meeting held in 2006, as participants at the original workshop felt periodic meetings on technology were important for the community. Over 70 participants from 34 different countries gathered to discuss the current state of technology, hear presentations on existing technologies as well as some nascent tools being tested or developed, and consider the future of technology applications in mine action.

Presentation Highlights

Workshop presentations ranged from an explanation of the International Test and Evaluation Program for Humanitarian Demining to a World Health Organization briefing on protecting staff against malaria to country-specific presentations from Colombia, Azerbaijan and others regarding their unique technological challenges.

One of the first presentations set the tone for creative thinking throughout the remainder of the workshop. Brent Maxwell Jones of the Behavioral Technology Group spoke on the topic “Another definition of technology has implications for technology development,” stressing how technology is not just comprised of new products, but also innovative processes. This presentation challenged participants to think of how their methods could be improved, not just their toolbox, and it generated much thought and discussion, as was evidenced by the fact that participants referenced this concept repeatedly during subsequent days of the gathering.

Another presentation on the first day that generated great interest from participants was on the use of commercially available magnets to clear debris from soil during detection and clearance operations. Arnold Scholderman of ITEP presented on this topic, and this simple technology demonstrated how something that is readily available to programs for little cost can prove highly beneficial. Many participants expressed interest in obtaining magnets for use in their programs after Scholderman’s presentation on the ITEP trials done with magnets.1 Most were surprised to hear that simple, off-the-shelf magnets (sometimes slightly modified for better use in demining operations) have been employed with successful results in reducing false-alarm rates during detection.

Over the course of the three days, six countries spoke to the group about their experiences in employing technology and the challenges they face that may require a technology-driven solution. Pablo Parra, Director of the Humanitarian Demining Section in Colombia, presented on the unique challenges facing his country. He pointed out the increased prevalence of improvised explosive devices and the use of materials and chemicals in these devices that are not detectable using the means currently available to the demining community. Steffen Peter of UXO Lao talked about the use of discretionary detectors in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. This technology enables the detection of nonferrous metals with different visual and audio indications for ferrous and nonferrous metals. Javid Mehraliyev and Parviz Gidayev of the Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action discussed the integration of different forms of clearance in ANAMA’s operations, as well as the topic of battle-area clearance in Azerbaijan. Norwegian People’s Aid Jordan representative Stephen Bryant presented on his program’s experience in integrating technology into operations for clearance of the border with Syria. Cambodia’s mechanical mine clearance was discussed by Kanith Roath of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre. Finally, Nikola Pavković highlighted the Croatian Mine Action Centre’s current use of technologies and CROMAC’s methods of testing and certifying demining machines.

One of the key takeaways from the country-specific presentations was that no two situations are the same; hence, there is an essential need to develop a robust toolbox appropriate to a particular country and from that identify and select the right tool for the right job at the right time. The participants, however, did express that they valued what they learned from hearing about similar problems and situations experienced by other countries’ mine-action programs.

Break-out Sessions

Days two and three of the workshop included one break-out session each in which groups of 20 to 25 participants discussed broader topics regarding the implications of technology in mine action. The theme of day two was “Survey and Mechanical Demining,” and the first presentation that day raised the issue of technology assisting the process of Technical Survey and land release. Thus, the break-out session asked participants to consider the question, “How can new technology realistically enhance the process of releasing land through Technical Survey?”

It was recognized that answering this question likely meant making improvements to methods and procedures more so than inventing revolutionary new equipment. Suggestions for improving processes included:

Additional important elements of improved survey and land-release processes included setting standards of acceptance for clearance, making sure the level of residual risk is acceptable both by clearance workers and by locals who will be using the land, and ensuring the handover of land to the community following clearance.


Participants discussed thematic issues related to technology in break-out sessions and later presented their ideas for discussion in front of the whole group.

The focus of day three was “Mechanical Clearance and Practical Advice,” and the break-out session that day addressed the question, “What is the way ahead in technology development and where do we go from here?” This question proved quite a bit broader and more difficult to pin down than the one from the first break-out session. Some of the recommended ways forward included:

Outcomes

Land release and Technical Survey were seen as central themes of the workshop, yet definitive conclusions were not made as far as where these areas of mine action are headed, and additional discussion within the broader community on these subjects would likely yield more concrete outcomes. The discussion surrounding technologies applicable to the land-release concept generated great interest, so this is obviously an important topic for practitioners to consider as mine action continues to evolve and mature.

Participants thought that further discussion, information and experience related to the detection of unexploded ordnance would be useful as the success in mine clearance continues and the number of found mines decreases. Some attendees expressed a desire to see more unexploded-ordnance operators present at the conference, as well as more field operators in general, in order to better include the full spectrum of mine-action practitioners in the discussions.

Donors were also largely absent from the workshop, a shortcoming recognized by the event sponsors. Attendees expressed a desire to meet with and engage donors, something they often struggle with in their programs. Someone suggested a future topic for a follow-on workshop could be how to secure support to procure new technology and get it into the field. Another proposition was to develop as a community a prioritized list of research areas in order to get support for proposals needing research funding and move them into the development and field stages more quickly.

A final outcome of the workshop was the chance to learn from one another—both about what tools are currently being used and about the resources that exist to support the research and development sector of the mine-action community. Some of the resources highlighted at the workshop included the Comité Européen de Normalisation Workshop Agreements,2 the ITEP web site,3 the UNMAS-Web supported lessons-learned repository available through the Mine Action Information Center,4 the UNMAS/GICHD Technology newsletter,5 and the Journal of ERW and Mine Action’s R&D section.6 Participants seemed grateful to know that there are multiple resources available to them for staying connected to one another in the interim period between the few in-person meetings that bring together this sector of the mine-action community.

Conclusion

Overall, the Technology Workshop was seen by both participants and organizers as a useful gathering, and most expressed an interest in holding additional meetings in the future, perhaps more frequently. UNMAS and the GICHD are currently planning a similar workshop for 2010, unless popular demand suggests a meeting in 2009 would be beneficial. Any such future workshop would be a minimum of three days in order to accommodate additional time for discussions and question-and-answer periods, as the participants thought too little time was available for these important exchanges at this September workshop. All attendees seemed to leave the meeting with valuable knowledge, nonetheless, having participated in thoughtful discussions, both inside and outside the meeting rooms. Many expressed a need for continued collaboration and congregation among the R&D community. JMA icon

More information on the 2008 Technology Workshop, including downloadable versions of presentations, can be found at: http://www.gichd.org/operational-assistance-research/clearance-technology/equipment/second-mine-action-technology-workshop-in-geneva-8-10-september-2008/.

Biography

Neitzey HeadshotNicole Neitzey is Managing Editor and Online Editor for The Journal of ERW and Mine Action as well as a Project Manager for the Mine Action Information Center/Center for International Stabilization and Recovery. She also oversees The Journal’s Research and Development section. She has been working at the Mine Action Information Center since 2001. Originally from New Jersey, she graduated from James Madison University in 2002 with a Bachelor of Arts in technical and scientific communication and an online publications specialization. She is currently on maternity leave and plans to return to the office in April 2009.

Endnotes

  1. Test and Evaluation of Magnets 2.5.2.6. http://www.itep.ws/activities/itep_workplan/word.php?form_field=act_number&form_section=2.5.2.6&
    caller=/activities/itep_workplan/results_workplan1.php.
    . Accessed 03 December 2008.
  2. “CEN Workshop Agreement (CWA).” Mine Action Standards. http://www.mineactionstandards.org/guides/cwa.htm. Accessed 26 November 2008.
  3. International Test and Evaluation Program for Humanitarian Demining. http://www.itep.ws/. Accessed 26 November 2008.
  4. “Mine Action Lessons Learned.” Mine Action Information Center. http://maic.jmu.edu/lldb/. Accessed 26 November 2008.
  5. UNMAS/GICHD Mine Action Technology Newsletter. Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining. http://www.gichd.org/gichd-newsletters/mine-action-technology-newsletter/current-edition/. Accessed 26 November 2008.
  6. The Journal of ERW and Mine Action has included a dedicated section on research and development since November 2004 (Issue 8.2). Past issues of The Journal of ERW and Mine Actionare available at http://maic.jmu.edu/journal/index/past.htm. Accessed 4 December 2008.

Contact Information

Nicole Neitzey
Managing Editor/Project Manager
The Journal of ERW and Mine Action
Mine Action Information Center
Center for International Stabilization and Recovery
James Madison University
MSC 4902, 1401 Technology Dr.
Suite 120, Room 1153
Harrisonburg, VA / USA 22807
Tel: +1 540 568 2718
Fax: +1 540 568 8176
E-mail: neitzenx@jmu.edu
Web site: http://maic.jmu.edu

Noel Mulliner
Technology Coordinator
United Nations Mine Action Service
E-mail: mulliner@un.org
Web site: www.mineaction.org

Erik Tollefsen
Mine Action Specialist
Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining
E-mail: e.tollefsen@gichd.org
Web site: http://www.gichd.org/