What one person finds "compelling" may differ from the opinion of another because one person may not interpret the significance of a piece of information in the same way as another. To keep consistency across the area reduction process, a method has to be put in place so that the interpretations of individual surveyors are minimised. This protects individual surveyors and spreads the responsibility for each decision throughout those responsible for Mine Action.
So the point at which information about an area compels it to be listed as having a Known Risk must be decided by those in authority. In the example that follows, I give a suggestion that I think will fit a lot of places. If it does not fit yours, I hope it will give you a starting point to develop your own.
Reducing suspect areas
The application of a series of questions should start the process- and the answers may mean that the actual area need not even be visited.
Is there evidence of a threat?
1) Visible threat
2) Accidents with livestock
3) Accidents with people
4) Reports from those who placed mines or witnessed their placement
5) Inhabitants unwilling to use the land because they believe that the area is dangerous due to ERW.
If any of the above are ticked, the area must be visited and subjected to a "Confidence check" or "Technical Survey". If none of the above are ticked, the area has NKR and should not be subjected to any demining activity. It can be "reduced" on paper and recorded as having NKR.
Visiting the nearest settlement(s)
Arrive in the district and speak to as many of the local people who report the threat as possible (starting with the local representatives, but do not speak only with them). Interview each person on their own and without others overhearing. Write down the answers and the names of those giving information. Children may roam more widely than others so may provide good general information, although they are often poor on detail. Marginalised adults tending livestock may also know more than most. Never presume that reported distances, times and numbers are accurate. Also, never presume that people use the same names for things that you do. This applies to places, features and devices.
Take with you a printed collection of real photographs of all the threats that could be in the area and see whether anyone can identify them. The photograph collection should include clear pictures of all common devices in real situations (photographed in previous working areas with a similar context whenever possible). If the same items are identified by more than one informant (interviewed separately), there is a high chance that those items are present. Other, concealed items may also be present.
If there have been accidents to people or livestock, question people closely about the injuries received. The extent of injury can make it clear whether the threat was a fragmentation or a blast device, a large item of ordnance or a small mine. Question victims or witnesses closely about the circumstances surrounding each accident. Local shepherds huddled around a fire at night and putting on an item of broken ordnance because they know that the explosive will burn is a rather different accident than the same shepherds tripping an OZM-72 fragmentation mine, but the injuries can be similar.
What devices are reported to be present in previous survey or minefield records?...........................................
What devices are reported to be present by locals?...........................................................................................
Are any of the reported threats anti-personnel mines? Yes/No
Are they blast or fragmentation mines? Blast/Fragmentation/Both
Are any mines tripwire operated? Yes/No
Are the tripwires intact? Yes/No/Uncertain
Is there any suggestion of anti-lift or booby-trap devices? Yes/No
Are any of the reported threats anti-vehicle or anti-tank mines? Yes/No
If none of the reported threats are mines, may any of the ordnance be movement sensitive?
If ordnance is identified that the surveyor does not have details about, that detail should be sourced through the International community.
From the answers to the above, you can decide whether the task includes a minefield or is a Battle Area. If it is a Battle Area, knowing which devices or generic type of device can help when determining what assets to deploy when the area is cleared.
It is possible that there will be no information about the above and that the Surveyors will have to deduce the likely threat with help from accident details.
Write down the perceived threat - and the Surveyors' confidence that it is correct and complete. Experience in similar situations may make the surveyors suspect the presence of unreported devices.
What is the threat?........................................................................................................
What condition is it in? ................................................................................................
Is there any reason to believe that other devices are present? Yes/No
If "Yes", what is that reason? ..........................................................................................
Is the threat likely to be above ground? Yes/No
Going to the reported threat area
The accident record shows that surveying is not an especially hazardous Mine Action activity. Even so, surveyors should take all the precautions common in demining. A survey team should comprise a minimum of four people including a medic. All should have the widest possible experience of demining, with everyone trained in first-aid, basic demining and device recognition skills. They should take PPE and the widest range of detection tools possible. For example, a mini-flail would often be an invaluable surveying asset. In many cases it could give easy access and allow a confidence check to be carried out on reduced areas during the survey. The minimum medical backup required by the NMAA for demining should accompany the surveyors whenever they intend to enter a potential threat area. When this includes an ambulance vehicle within a short distance and access makes this impossible, an amendment to the minimum NMAA requirement should be requested.
The surveying team should be able to communicate with their base. This may be by satellite telephone when necessary. They should notify their base before any visit to a reported threat area is made.
Surveyors should be taken to the area by the local people who report the presence of a threat. The only time when this need not be done is when the only reason to expect a threat is because a minefield is recorded on minefield maps received from combatants or from reliable informants. If local people will not accompany the Surveyors to the perimeter of the area believed hazardous, attempts should be made to persuade them. In some cases, a gift or a small payment may be appropriate. It should be stressed to the guides that they should not lead the team into the mined area, just into its vicinity. Surveyors should use paths, roads or tracks and be led by the local guides. In some cases it can be advisable to approach the area on mules or horseback to ensure that the surveyors arrive fresh and able to think clearly, carrying the appropriate equipment.
The reported area should, whenever possible, be viewed from all sides. It may be appropriate to climb nearby hills to gain an overview of the area. Surveyors should take photographs of the area, including any landmarks used by the local guides. If undergrowth is too dense to get an overview, they should use the most detailed maps available and regularly check exactly where they are as they progress. Do not try to complete this in a hurry. An extra day spent at this stage may save thousands of deminer working days later.
The purpose of the visit is to conduct area-reduction and threat verification, so the Surveyors should already have at least one map. That map may be entirely inaccurate, but it should be consulted and reference made to it when recording the new perimeters of the threat area.
If local people use any part of the area for access, grazing, crop-gathering or anything else, the places that are used should be recorded (GPS) and reduced UNLESS there have been accidents or devices discovered inside that area. Surveyors should stay inside the area believed to be safe when recording co-ordinates. When no accidents or devices have been found inside the used area, the area believed to be safe will include the places that are used by local people. Generally, surveyors must use paths and tracks that are used by locals if they are to conduct their work, and this includes paths and tracks that pass through areas that may be hazardous.
When devices have been found within a used area, the device type and condition is important. Some ordnance is generally considered to present a very low threat. Many mortar bombs and some grenades fall into this category. Perhaps surprisingly, the same can be true of some mines. For example, POMZ-2 mines on wooden stakes that have all fallen over and without intact tripwires may represent a low-threat. Both the fuze and the explosive have often reliably separated from the mine bodies. When people use the land around them and there have been no accidents, it may be appropriate to move through the area guided by locals who regularly do so. In cases like this, the area should be accurately recorded with GPS so that the residual threat can be cleared later using appropriate assets (in this case that might be by using visual BAC methods after random metal detector checks confirmed an absence of AP blast mines from the mine pattern).
It is possible that surveyors will have to cross an uncertain area in order to reach another used area or path that is presumed to be safe. Depending on the assessed threat, surveyors may use confidence building or Technical Survey techniques to move across an uncertain area as long as they have appropriate medical backup. No ground processing methods can be used without the approved medical support being present. To do this appropriately, a preliminary assessment of the threat will have to be made. This should be recorded in writing.
Assessing the threat
To assess the threat the survey team must have a list of identified mines and ordnance. They must also have an idea of the condition of the devices and details of the accidents to people and livestock that have been reported.
If a conflict has been over for some time, some devices will have reliably decayed. For example, PFM mines that were air scattered will have been attacked by weather and sunlight. The cases will often have split and the liquid explosive evaporated. What is left contains a small detonator but it is not easy to set off and presents a very small threat.
It can be handled with caution...
Knowledge of the devices should be augmented by knowledge of the context. For example, the land may be flat, rocky and overgrown or bare hillside. There may be so much undergrowth that the ground can rarely be seen. The context should be photographed so that any demining team that follows will know what it will have to deal with.
The context can affect a decision over what to do next. If the survey team has secure funding and are able to schedule survey tasks well in advance, they may decide to return at another time of year when some of the problems have been resolved by seasonal change. Very wet ground may have dried out, snow may have melted, or winter may have killed off undergrowth. For example, when the threat is believed to be on the surface and visible at another time of year, a decision to return later might be appropriate.