Landmines In Monmouth
The clearance of landmines and unexploded munitions has become a civilian industry over the last 15 years. Most people think the work is done by soldiers, but that is wrong.
Soldiers are good at making a path through a minefield and have specialists to blow things up or deal with terrorist bombs. They can do this quickly and while the enemy is shooting at them, but cleaning up after conflict is usually a civilian activity. Those involved are often ex-soldiers, but not always.
The methods used and the standards required are not the same as those used by the military. Most readers will know that Monmouth is the home of “The Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers”. Few will know that it is also home to people who have been prominent in the development of standards for civilian mine clearance.
Andy Smith is locally known for “the wall” he has built using local stone in Old Dixton Road. Some also know him as the son-in-law of the local historian Keith Kissack. We at monmouth.org.uk know him because of his work in landmine clearance.
Along with local software developer, Mark Briscoe, Andy Smith first developed a database of the accidents that occur in mine clearance, and then refined and improved the database for the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD).
Apart from the Database of Demining Accidents, which has helped to prevent injury and been used to support the development of International Standards, Andy has pushed the demining industry forward in a variety of ways. With hands-on experience from Afghanistan to Angola, Cambodia to Croatia, Mozambique to Iraq and Kosovo to Zimbabwe, he designed and made the first locally manufacturable blast visors and body armour – pioneering the use of lightweight aprons (a concept widely copied).
He also developed tools that can withstand a mine blast and so help protect the user’s hands. With funding from the Sir Halley Stewart Trust, the methods of manufacture were transferred to Africa where the equipment is still made.
Across the industry, the cost of protective equipment and specialist tools is now a fraction of what it was before the technology transfer.
Actively involved in drafting the International standards during 1999 and 2000, he continues as a member of the Standards review board to this day. With funding from the US government, he researched mines and safe methods of clearance, creating the first comprehensive country-based training materials in 2001.
In 2003 he co-authored “The Metal-Detector Handbook” published by the EU.
In 2004 he carried out field research and the first comparative trials of manual demining methods (funded by GICHD).
In 2005 he has developed new tools and helped to introduce mechanical assets in Sri Lanka, and carried out extensive training courses with new demining charities.
Since 1998 he has written regularly (and sometimes controversially) for the industry’s only Journal – the James Madison University Journal of Mine Action.
He regularly advises the UN and takes contracts with demining groups when interesting work is offered, but he usually works alone.
Andy asks us to thank Monmouth’s Brigadier John Hooper (Rtd), who helped him blast test his early designs of equipment with the Territorial Army ten years ago, and who has been generous with his encouragement and support ever since.
Andy has been in more minefields and has handled more devices than most. “I can’t train someone to do something that I don’t do myself”, he explains.
But he is not an old-soldier. Leaving school at fifteen he worked in factories, as a dustman and on building sites. Self trained, he became a boatbuilder, a technical author, an artist, engineer and a school and college teacher.
He describes himself as 'a lifelong rebel who found a cause'.
Want to find out more? Andy's official site is at www.nolandmines.com.