Latest Landmine Database: One of the World’s Best

Brenda Stewart, Brave Defence, July 2003

“No one accurately knows how many landmines have been manufactured. Our landmine database and handheld applications will help ease this problem.”

No one would disagree that working in mine fields is a dangerous business—not to be taken lightly.

Clearly, an electronic database containing landmine information is an essential tool—and according to recent feedback the one the Canadian Forces released in January 2003 is stacking up as one of the best in the world.

Extremely concise and user friendly, it has been very well received at home and in other countries, says Master Warrant Officer Tom Stewart from the National Defence Mine/countermine Information Centre (NDMIC) at headquarters in Ottawa.

Kudos from humanitarian and defence organizations in Canada and countries such as Denmark, England, Romania, Australia and the U.S. have ranged from “It’s great.” to “It’s outstanding.”

With vast numbers of mines in use, the database has proven valuable in arenas such as landmine training, clearance operations and deployment of military forces—as well as an educational resource, says MWO Stewart.

“Some countries use our database for comparison, however, others are comfortable enough with it to be using it in the field.”

Such easily accessible information was not always available. For years, soldiers and others required to work in mine fields used paper copies of information. The problems were obvious, in that it came in various forms, classifications and different amounts of detail.

Then in 1996, Sergeant Rod MacDougall assisted by the Canadian Forces School of Military Engineering (CFSME) devised a solution by developing an electronic version in the form of a landmine database.

MWO Stewart says, “The Canadian Forces set a precedent in a way. Ours was the first of its type.” In 1998, an update transferred data to the latest version of the Access software in a painstaking manual process.

Three years later, in August 2001 work on the latest version began. Midway through, the format became unworkable—far too large to distribute easily to users.

Steve Hamilton and his team of information technology experts at ADM Infrastructure and Environment responded to the centre’s request for assistance. They changed the information to the SQL database to accommodate hundreds of images, and added the envisioned user friendliness and information protection.

The current version presents facts in an easy-to-use format that looks like a Web page—and it’s easy to update and upgrade. The unclassified listing comes on a compact disk and currently profiles 313 landmines, complete with images. Searches will find a mine, based on its name, country in use or of origin, shape, material, colour and type.

The new database consolidates information—decreasing the number of records required. Landmines often have different names depending on the country of use—a fact that contributes to the impression that more mines exist.

“To avoid confusion, we only included mines with images. Many other databases in the world lack images—a potentially dangerous precedent and omission for individuals needing to operate in mined environments.”

“We provide good clear images and detailed accurate information—another reason ours is considered one of the best.”

For maximum performance, database instructions advise users to install the application to their computers. Then, easy access to updates and more information is available internally through the department’s Intranet site. Work is underway to provide similar information via the Web.

Another exciting idea is also in the works. The centre is investigating the feasibility of a “country-specific” version of the database designed for a palm-sized PDA (personal assistance device). The tool will also be a hand-held landmine “mapper.”

Basically, the device would hold a digital map and critical information from the database that would enable people to move around safely. Ultimately, it will also transfer back in minutes locations and new information on landmines from other countries.

“While the idea is still only in the concept stage, we are expecting to have a usable product before June 2003,” says MWO Stewart.

“The landmine problem world wide is horrific. In some locales, civilians and guerilla troops may have laid landmines—leaving absolutely no records.”

“No one accurately knows how many have been manufactured or laid. Our landmine database and handheld applications will help ease this problem.”