Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Criticality of Transportation in Disaster Relief and Humanitarian Operations

The new semester has begun and I am delighted to again be teaching my Humanitarian Logistics and Healthcare class at the Isenberg School of Management. As I mentioned in a previous post, I am also busy co-editing a volume on Dynamics of Disasters with two great colleagues.

A theme that is resonating time and time again with me when it comes to disaster relief and humanitarian operations is that of the criticality of transportation.

The below poster I have on my office door. It was prepared courtesy of the American Mathematical Society (AMS) when I was interviewed by Michael Breen for a Mathematical Moments podcast on my earlier research on humanitarian supply chains. The podcast can be accessed here.
Transportation is essential to disaster relief and humanitarian operations, which also includes recovery in the disaster management life cycle. Transportation is used in the evacuation of people, animals, etc., in anticipation of a disaster. It is fundamental to needs assessment at the disaster sites, once the disaster strikes, to determine the extent of casualties and survivors' demand for necessary relief supplies. It is even an essential component for supply collections from donors or places of procurement. Finally, transportation in often very challenging environments to points of demand can involve multiple different modes of transportation with great time pressures, followed by last mile deliveries. And, when it comes to recovery post a disaster, the removal of debris and detritus due to the sustained damage cannot happen without transportation, as well as the followup rebuilding. the former was a huge issue post the Haiti devastating earthquake of 2010, as vividly captured in a New York Times OpEd by our Georgia Tech operations research colleagues.

Given the importance of transportation in this space there have arisen partnerships between private companies and  humanitarian organizations as well as the well-known Denton Program, for private U.S. citizens and organizations to use space available on U.S. military cargo planes to transport humanitarian goods to countries in need. I am delighted that one of the highlights of my class will include speakers from the Westover Base in Chicopee who will be discussing military logistics and the Denton Program.

My most recent study, Freight Service Provision for Disaster Relief: A Competitive Network Model with Computations, to appear in Dynamics of Disasters, I.S. Kotsireas, A. Nagurney, and P.M. Pardalos, Eds., Springer International Publishing Switzerland, focuses on freight service provision, under competition, for  disaster relief. Therein, I argue the importance of capturing nonlinearities associated with transportation in humanitarian operations to capture congestion as well as competition and even material convergence.