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11.4.2021 : 18:41 : +0200

Definition and classification of UEMS


Unplanned Explosions at Munitions Sites (UEMS) include accidents1 resulting in the explosion2 of abandoned3, damaged4, improperly stored5, or properly stored stockpiles of munitions6 and explosives. For our purposes, munitions sites comprise storage areas7 (including those temporarily maintained during demilitarization or explosive ordnance disposal) and processing sites,8 whether temporary or permanent. Ammunition manufacturing facilities (ordnance factories) are not included, but accidents during ammunition processing operations within munitions sites have been included where known.

1. An accident is defined as: ‘an undesired event, which results in harm’ (UNODA, 2011, para. 3.5, p.2). ‘Harm’ is defined as: ‘physical injury or damage to the health of people, or damage to property or the environment’ (UNODA, 2011, para. 3.120, p. 14).

2. An explosion is defined as: ‘a sudden release of energy producing a blast effect with the possible projection of fragments. The term explosion encompasses fast combustion, deflagration and detonation’ (UNODA, 2011, para. 3.95, p.11).

3. Abandoned Explosive Ordnance (AXO) is defined as: ‘explosive ordnance that has not been used during an armed conflict, that has been left behind or dumped by a party to an armed conflict, and which is no longer under control of the party that left it behind or dumped it. Abandoned explosive ordnance may or may not have been primed, fuzed, armed or otherwise prepared for use’ (UNODA, 2011, para. 3.1, p.1).

4. Damaged munitions refer to the physical or chemical deterioration of ammunition and explosives.

5. Munitions are considered improperly stored when storage does not generally follow accepted multilateral norms or guidelines, or existing national legislation and controls.

6. Munitions is used in this definition—and in common usage—to refer to weapons, ammunition, explosives and components. A number of armed forces and ammunition specialists, however, use the term munitions to refer solely to complete rounds of ammunition (cf. Ammunition) (Bevan and Wilkinson, 2008, p. xxvi). Ammunition: A complete device (e.g. missile, shell, mine, demolition store, etc.) charged with explosives; propellants; pyrotechnics; initiating composition; or nuclear, biological, or chemical material for use in connection with offence, or defence, or training, or non-operational purposes, including those parts of weapons systems containing explosives (cf. Munition) (Bevan and Wilkinson, 2008, p. xix).

7. An Explosive Storage Area (ESA) is defined as: ‘an area used for the storage of explosives and within which authorised ammunition or missile preparation, inspection and rectification operations may also be carried out’ (UNODA, 2011, para. 3.108, p.12).

8. An ammunition process [site] is defined as: ‘a building or area that contains or is intended to contain one or more of the following activities: maintenance, preparation, inspection, breakdown, renovation, test or repair of ammunition and explosives’ (UNODA, 2011, para. 3.12, p.2).


Classification of reported causes of UEMS

Root cause
Primary cause Sub-classification of primary causes*
1. lack of surveillance leading to ammunition deterioration 1.1. auto-initiation (auto-catalysation)
1.2. mechanical deterioration 1.2.1. sensitization, typically due to corrosion
1.2.2. exudation (e.g. white phosphorus and nitro-based chemicals)
1.2.3. compatibility problems between chemical compounds
1.3. chemical deterioration 1.3.1. formation of volatile compounds (e.g. copper azide)
1.3.2. depletion of propellant stabilizer
1.3.3 component ageing (metallurgical)
1.3.4. component ageing (electronics)
1.4. suspected
2. inappropriate storage infrastructure and systems 2.1. falling objects 2.1.1. weak internal storage infrastructure
2.1.2. unsafe ammunition stacking
2.2. internal fire 2.2.1. electrical fault
2.2.2. incompatible structural material
2.2.3. hot surfaces
2.3. suspected
3. handling errors and inappropriate working practices 3.1. mechanical damage (caused by shock initiation) 3.1.1. rough handling (including transporting within depot)
3.1.2. munitions being dropped
3.1.3. vibration
3.2. inappropriate work practices 3.2.1. unauthorized activities and items (e.g. smoking)
3.2.2. work involving the use of heat (e.g. welding)
3.2.3. storage of incompatible materials
3.2.4.horseplay (foolish and irresponsible behaviour)
3.3. tampering 3.3.1. tampering (deliberate)
3.3.2. tampering (accidental)
3.4. during demilitarization/explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) 3.4.1. inadvertent initiation of UXO
3.4.2. inappropriate disposal
3.5. suspected
4. Failure to take into account external, environmental influences and events 4.1. extreme weather 4.1.1. lightning
4.1.2. extreme climatic heat
4.1.3. extreme climatic humidity
4.1.4. extreme fluctuations (e.g. of humidity or temperature, such as freezing and thawing)
4.2. external fire 4.2.1. vegetation fire
4.2.2. vehicle fire
4.2.3. building fire
4.3. other
4.4. suspected
5. Poor security 5.1. criminal/deliberate act 5.1.1. deliberate explosion
5.1.2. deliberate fire
5.1.3. during theft (e.g. illegal salvaging)
5.1.4. failure to withstand external attack (excluding aerial bombing)
5.2. suspected
6. Cause currently undetermined or unrecorded
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