Response to Bob Keeley’s Letter to the Journal of Mine
by Daniel Wolf and Steven
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September 25, 2001
We appreciate Bob being "picky" in
examining our article on applying a public-health approach to demining.
The lives at stake in demining are worth the extra care. As it happens,
we generally agree with his views.
First, let’s do get our terminology
straight. Thanks, Bob, for the lesson in British diction. We had hoped
that placing the modifier mechanical before detonator
would make our intentions clear. That it did not, we apologize to our
readers. More substantive issues await us.
As Bob rightly points out, our ideas are not new. The
public-health/cost-benefit approach predates the birth of everyone
reading these words and using detonation devices to map mine fields is
likewise not fresh. Plenty of deminers apply both of these techniques.
Our purpose in writing the article was to memorialize the principles
involved, and thereby educate and even convince people who have not
joined the choir, of whom there are many.
On the other hand, we’re not sure we appreciate
being likened to a pair of chimps with typewriters….
Bob argues that mechanical detonation is not
appropriate because it is less than 100 percent effective. This is valid for
complete clearance but beside the point for Level Two Surveys (mine
field detection) because 100 percent clearance is not part of the job
specification. The crucial question, addressed in our article in this
issue, is "If not 100 percent, then how much?" Bob’s
assertion that "machines are not necessarily more cost
effective" is absolutely true. Many machines exist, however, and
each varies in terms of productivity and costs of purchase and
operation, so no general statement can truthfully be made. A machine
that would break the budget of one project may be economical in another.
Bob takes us to task for endorsing mechanical
detonators categorically. That is not our intent, and in fact, we
don’t find any such endorsement in our article. To clarify, we don’t
assert that mechanical detonation is the most appropriate, effective
demining method under every set of conditions. Our article in this issue
discusses mechanical detonation at length. Here is what we say:
"In fact, under many conditions, using
detonators will find mine fields better than manual probing [emphasis
So, under what sorts of conditions do we think
mechanical detonators offer advantages? Well, again, let’s look at
what we say:
"[W]here local knowledge and tactical
speculation are unreliable, the larger sample sizes from detonators will
produce information that is more dependable. At the other extreme, where
mines have been emplaced according to accepted military doctrines and
location knowledge is good, traditional trench samples can find mine
"Let us be clear, detonators will not always be
the best technique to apply in all situations. Operators will have
to account for conditions when deciding when and how to use detonators.
Once it is determined that terrain, infrastructure or other local
variables do not contraindicate sampling by mechanical detonation,
however, the large samples permitted by imperfect detonators are
superior to the small samples obtained by ‘perfect’ human detectors
This is hardly a categorical endorsement of
mechanical detonation as a panacea for what ails demining operations.
Bob’s example in which crops could flatten, and thereby mask the
presence of mines, would be one of those situations where, depending on
the crop, mechanical detonation may not be appropriate.
We definitely do not promote flails or rollers as
"one stop shops" for demining. Though it would be unfair to
draw firm conclusions from the experiment Bob cites (the sample size—four—is
just too small), we share his low opinion of flails.
Most of all, Bob points out the need for us to expand
on our shorthand notes we made regarding mechanical detonation. We hope
our article in this issue clarifies our points sufficiently.