Issue 7.3, December 2003
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IMSMA V3.0: Experiences From the ”IMSMA Diaspora”

The Information Management System for Mine Action (IMSMA) V3.0 was released June 2003, and early experience with the system has been positive. Salient features are summarized, including geographic information system (GIS) capabilities based on ArcView GIS. Recommendations include operations-oriented training focusing on reporting information from IMSMA. The following article describes the new version and discusses local customization. The authors also describe upgrading to IMSMA V3.0 based on experience as IMSMA administrators and trainers within their organizations.

by Mohammed Qasim, MACA and John Walker, former U.S. DoD HDTC


Information technology (IT) is a support function within the bigger world of humanitarian mine action. IT managers strive to turn data into information and information into knowledge so we can find better mine action solutions. This expedites the following:

Mine action is always evolving, which the term reflects. Humanitarian demining first focused on the physical removal of mines; worldwide, good programs are now in place doing this. As managers shift attention to education and efficiency, information system people have a bigger job to do. The first job of a management information system (MIS) is to support Operations (Ops)—not create “data processing” capability, resulting in the well-known problem of “a lot of data but no information.” The IT team should also support headquarters administration, donor reports and interagency liaison as well as give 24/7 support to decision makers through timely and accurate information and analysis. So they need a good information system.

Information systems for mine action must be simple, economic, secure and stable. The system must be locally maintainable while following international norms and focus on the “leading edge”—not the “bleeding edge”—of technology. GIS and data export-import capabilities are essential. The system should support local languages and share information in UN languages, with full acceptance by the international mine action diaspora. Moreover, software should be easy to use and able to run on standard computers.1

The system meeting these criteria is IMSMA, developed at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETHZ) with leadership by the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD). No mine action center (MAC) should operate without IMSMA.

IMSMA Background

Satellite imagery of Mazar-e-Sharif, Balkh province of Afghanistan (northern area) is the ArcView GIS raster data base-layer of the Mine Action Center for Afghanistan (MACA) minefield perimeter plot (vector data from IMSMA datapool). c/o MACA, Kabul

The Swiss Ministry of Defense, through the Center for Security Studies and Conflict Research at ETHZ, sponsored IMSMA development as part of Switzerland’s commitment to humanitarian demining. The software development team engineered IMSMA as a highly customized Microsoft Access database; any group using small-office PCs could use the system.

In 1999, the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) declared IMSMA its standard mine information database.2 The GICHD, founded in 1998, began training and implementation as a partner with ETHZ. Using ArcView software, ETHZ developed IMSMA GIS, a custom version of ArcView optimized for mine action. GIS allowed presentation and analysis of mine action information (vector data) on maps and imagery (raster data).

UNMAS and the U.S. government began encouraging use of IMSMA. IMSMA V2, developed and distributed from 2000 to 2002, added a tasking tool and improved the GIS engine. ETHZ’s development team was recognized by Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) for outstanding GIS work.

Use of IMSMA by MACs accelerated. The U.S. Department of State and Department of Defense accepted it as their mine action standard, superceding the expensive Demining Support System (DSS). ESRI worked with the GICHD to provide ArcView 3.2a to mine action programs, giving many lesser-developed countries their first GIS. Nicaragua and Afghanistan pioneered IMSMA use.3 During 2002 and 2003, with at least 28 mine action programs running IMSMA, the GICHD assumed responsibility for training and implementation support. ETHZ developers began work on the IMSMA “new generation” using extensible markup language (XML) technology. This will be an exciting and positive development.

ArcView and IMSMA GIS

GIS view of the Humanitarian Demining Training Camp’s (HDTC’s) Moon Village area, where U.S. Special Operations Forces train in humanitarian demining, shows minefield information pulled from the IMSMA V3.0 datapool by ArcView’s identity tool. The ability to query the datapool by clicking on a map is a powerful IMSMA GIS feature. c/o DoD HDTC

ArcView, developed by ESRI in Redlands, California, is a well-known desktop GIS used worldwide by planning agencies, universities, corporations and anyone needing accurate geographic data. It has powerful tools for querying spatial data.

ArcView GIS does not require strong skills for basic use, although it does take training to become proficient. People experienced with graphics software (e.g., Adobe Photoshop) or mapping programs such as FalconView learn quickly since they understand “layers” of data (“themes” in ArcView). Quantitative skills are useful, and a skilled SysAdmin may add functionality through custom ArcView extensions.


ETHZ developed IMSMA V3.0 between 2002 and 2003, and the GICHD released it in June 2003. This is a complete, well-organized and full-fledged information system. Advances include the following:

IMSMA V3.0 users need only work with the Access front-end and ArcView GIS interface; high-performance back-end and datapool are transparent to all but SysAdmin. c/o MACA, Kabul

IMSMA V3.0 strengthens structure, functionality, platform, security and performance. Proper chain-of-action and business rules must be followed when updating information; for example, a clearance operation cannot begin until a technical survey is completed. Structured Query Language (SQL), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO)-approved coding used in Oracle and other powerful database systems, is now used. The Microsoft SQL Server back-end is more powerful, more secure and easier to back up and restore than older Microsoft Access versions. But IMSMA V3.0 retains the familiar Access front-end.

The SQL Server dismantles IMSMA V2’s restriction of few concurrent users. An unlimited number of users can access the system with no performance degradation. Smaller mine action programs may run compact (and free!) Microsoft Desktop Engine (MSDE), allowing five concurrent users but in practice supporting more. MSDE easily runs SQL on desktop or notebook PCs. HDTC uses MSDE with good results while the much larger MACA runs the full SQL Server. SQL gives us the following:

Caption: Process management in IMSMA V3.0 follows accepted mine action business rules, with each task’s status based on the correct chain of action. For example, IMSMA will not allow clearance operations in a mine-affected area until a technical survey is completed. c/o MACA, Kabul
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