Sunday, November 24, 2019

Great Talk on Emergency Response in the Arctic by Professor Tom Sharkey of RPI

Recently, we had the great pleasure of hosting RPI Professor Tom Sharkey in our UMass Amherst INFORMS Speaker Series.  His talk, based on an NSF-funded research project, was extremely timely and fascinating.
In fact, an article on this project, co-authored by Professor Sharkey with his project collaborators, including Professor Al Wallace of RPI,  was the cover story in the November issue of ISE Magazine and is definitely worthwhile to read.

His talk attracted an audience of faculty and students from multiple departments and schools at UMass Amherst, including the Isenberg School, the College of Engineering, and also the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

It was a pleasure to introduce Professor Sharkey - I had last seen him this past March when I gave a talk at RPI. Since then, a PhD alumna of RPI's ISE program, whose PhD advisor was Professor Wallace, Dr. Anne P. Massey, has become the first female Dean of the Isenberg School - very exciting!

Professor Sharkey emphasized the interdisciplinary nature of the project in his presentation and noted that the team is working on constructing Operations Research (OR) models to help in emergency response (ER), while also helping communities. Collaborators, outside of RPI faculty, include a professor at NCState and one at the University of Alaska.

He noted the changes that are happening in the Arctic, including tourism and increasing commercial activity, as well as the possibility of broadened maritime shipping,  and the various associated challenges from uncertainty in sea conditions to shortcomings in infrastructure, including broadband. He stated that, even without oil exploration, there is still the possibility of spills. The shipping time from China to Rotterdam has now been decreased by 10-14 days. And, when it comes to ER, mobilization may be bottlenecked by the limited capacity of a community. Infrastructure investments take a while to build out. He discussed the need to determine the minimum budget required in order to achieve a certain response time in an emergency.

Also, he emphasized that there may be unintended consequences and it is important to identify who actually benefits from infrastructure investments.

Professor Sharkey described a mass rescue event, with accompanying network figure, in the case of the need to rescue cruise ship evacuees. His talk clearly resonated with me since we have done a lot of work on disaster relief and, to-date, I have co-edited two volumes on Dynamics of Disasters, with Professors Ilias S. Kotsireas and Panos M. Pardalos.

In 2016, I hosted the visit of Rasmus Dahlberg, who is a disaster researcher, based in Denmark (and also a novelist and TV and radio personality).  After Sharkey's visit to UMass Amherst, I connected the two of them, due to their very similar interests in Arctic emergency response research. Dahlberg is also a practitioner in this important domain. He also has a contributed chapter in the first Dynamics of Disasters (DOD) volume that I co-edited and spoke at the first DOD conference that I co-organized in Kalamata, Greece.

Professor Sharkey spoke abut identifying "dual-use" infrastructure planning, a concept I like very much. For example, improved "connectivity" for Arctic regions is an important goal, in transport (in terms of roads and ports) as well as in communications.  Fast and reliable Internet could then allow for telemedicine, as well as teleeducation in the Arctic. Of course, he also brought up the important question: "Who is going to pay?"

There were many questions during and after his very information talk. We took a group photo and then enjoyed a lunch at the University Club. We thank Professor Sharkey for his excellent, very inspiring  lecture in our Speaker Series!
Also, we celebrated, with cake, 15 years of the UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter (30 semesters of great speakers in its Speaker Series)!

Professor Sharkey was interviewed after the lunch for the chapter's youtube channel, and, when the approved video is posted, we will let everyone know via social media.

In the meantime, many thanks to the outstanding UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter, and to its Officers, for their amazing work, that brings all those interested in Operations Research/Management Science throughout UMass Amherst (and beyond) closer together as a community, both professionally and socially.