From time to time we invite guests to post about subjects of interest and today we’re pleased to share a post from Guy Willoughby, Executive Director of the HALO Trust, a U.K.-based nonprofit dedicated to landmine clearance in post-conflict areas. Hear how HALO is using Google Maps for Business to fight the war against mines, clearing more than 1.4 million landmines worldwide. -Ed.
When conflicts end, making communities safe and livable often means removing dangerous remnants of war. “Getting mines out of the ground, for good,” as we say at the HALO Trust, has been our mission over the last 25 years. We work in more than a dozen countries and regions across the globe, clearing landmines and other explosives, many of which have been buried underground. While we’ve been in operation for almost three decades, there is still more to be done.
In Kosovo, where people are reclaiming their homeland after the conflict in 1999, we’re working in close cooperation with the government and local population to collect and share information about where mines are located. It’s a true community effort—farmers tell us where they’ve seen signs of mines and where accidents have occurred. It’s our job at the HALO Trust to take this data and make it usable, accessible, and visually compelling, so clearance becomes more efficient and happens faster.
One of our biggest challenges is keeping our field teams safe. We need easy-to-use tools that can help us find, map and clear hazardous areas without putting our operations at risk. Over the years, we’ve continuously improved our mine clearance techniques, including the deployment of Google Earth Pro.
Google Earth Pro makes it easier for the HALO team to do the dangerous and detailed work of finding and mapping at-risk areas. Because it’s based on the same technology as Google Maps and Earth, it’s easy for our teams to use and create maps without IT or GIS expertise. It’s a tool that is familiar to our employees and something they use in their daily lives, so we can start mapping right away.
The information we gather, including GPS references to landmines in the field, is imported into Earth Pro so that we can plot mine locations. We also use the incredibly detailed satellite imagery in Google Earth to identify and map hazardous areas. These high-resolution maps serve many people: from families who live near mines, to crews who clear them, and donors and other organizations that support us. When donors view the vivid interactive maps of our project areas—with mines so close to schools, farms and houses—they understand why the HALO Trust’s work is so critical.
Accurate maps from Google Earth Pro mean safer working conditions for our local teams, and faster progress toward our goals. In Kosovo alone, we’ve removed thousands of landmines, cluster munitions and other explosives. And with the help of Google’s mapping tools and our donors, we’ll be able to declare the country mine-free.