Saturday, March 6, 2021

A Big Thanks to Dr. George Karagiannis for His Brilliant Guest Lecture in My Humanitarian Logistics and Healthcare Class

This past week, we had the honor and pleasure of hosting Dr. George Karagiannis in my Humanitarian Logistics and Healthcare class, which, this year, is being taught remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

An integral part of this course is having guest lecturers who are expert practitioners. Hearing from such experts reinforces the course material and provides for a rich educational experience for the students.

Now, for some background on Dr. Karagiannis, whom I met back in 2015, when I co-organized the Dynamics of Disasters conference in Kalamata, Greece, with Professors Ilias S. Kotsireas and Panos M. Pardalos, and Dr. Karagiannis was a speaker. We also hosted him for a seminar at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the Fall of 2015.

Dr. George Karagiannis is Greece's Deputy Secretary-General for Civil Protection, the US equivalent of Deputy FEMA Administrator. From 2016 to 2019, he was a Technical Officer at the European Commission Joint Research Center, where his area of expertise revolved around emergency management, critical infrastructure protection and hybrid threats. Prior to joining the Joint Research Center, he was a Disaster Management Consultant. He has worked in four countries, developed two strategic national risk assessments, organized over 60 exercises, led the development of a dozen emergency operations plans and responded to disasters in the field. He also was a Research Scientist at the Technical University of Crete in Greece, where he his interdisciplinary research lay at the intersection of systems engineering and disaster resilience. George earned his Doctorate in Environmental Science and Engineering from Saint-Etienne School of Mines in France. He also holds degrees in Civil Engineering and in Disaster Management and Business Administration, and is a Certified Emergency Manager by the International Association of Emergency Managers.

Dr. Karagiannis's presentation title in my course was, "Humanitarian Needs Assessment & Information Management." He zoomed in from Athens, Greece, which was lovely since the students in this class are physically located not only in Massachusetts but across the US, with a student even enrolled, who is now in Turkey.

Due to multiple inquiries and requests, Dr. Karagiannis has given me permission to post the slide deck of his excellent presentation.

So many excellent insights and recommendation are contained in his presentation, which I urge you to study. Some of the takeaways that very much resonated with me and also reinforced the material that we have been covering in the class and will be addressing in subsequent weeks are the following:

1. Help flows were there are cameras. This statement demonstrates the importance of media in getting the news out but also emphasizes that, at times, people who are victims of disasters may not get the help that they need.
2. Goods may be donated and delivered that do not help the victims - such as fur coats from Greece following the Israel-Hezbollah war in 2006! The wrong goods create extra stressors (even if they are donated in good faith) since they require human resources to offload and also take up valuable storage space. In the case of the furs, they ultimately created a health hazard. I recall tuxedos being delivered to victims of Hurricane Katrina, and there are many other such incredible stories of the wrong goods.
3. When do you stop gathering data? How much data is "good enough" for needs assessment?
4. The recognition of the importance of time is paramount. If it takes a time t for needs assessment, it will take a time of 2t for making a decision.
5. One must distinguish primary data from secondary data.
6. Comparison over time is also essential in terms of the number of people displaced by the disaster.
7. One of the greatest challenges is learning to make decisions with only incomplete information when everything is at stake!
8. There is a shift of Emergency Management now in addressing infrastructure, which makes tremendous sense due to the negative impacts of climate change on infrastructure.

I very much like that he noted the UN Cluster Approach to support sector emergency functions, which we had emphasized in the course just a few days prior.

We also had a great discussion on how well Greece mitigated the spread of the coronavirus, starting their preparations already in early January! The country was very agile and reacted quickly.

The students were prepared with questions for the speaker. Dr. Karagiannis was so generous with his time - staying way past the class time window to answer questions.

And we honored him with a Professor for a Day certificate recognizing that his contributions.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

An Update on Our Supply Chain Research with the Inclusion of Labor in the COVID-19 Pandemic

In less than two weeks,  on March 11, 2021, we will be marking the first "anniversary" of the World Health Organization declaring the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been a year like no other in our lifetimes.

It has also been a year in which many researchers and practitioners have tried to do their best in addressing many of the complex problems that have resulted, as a consequence of the pandemic. What has especially resonated with me has been the criticality of numerous supply chains from PPE and medical supply ones (and now even those associated with vaccines) to food. The shortcomings associated with such supply chains have included the fact that labor has been very seriously impacted in the pandemic with many falling ill, some succumbing to the disease, and others working in quite challenging circumstances with added stressors and anxiety, as well as new procedures, in terms of social distancing requirements, for example.

The importance of people in supply chains, including healthcare ones, has, hence, stood out. However, there was not much scientific literature that addresses disruptions on labor and impacts on supply chains. So, as a researcher and educator,  I decided to delve deeper into constructing mathematical models, both optimization and game theory ones, that would shed light on labor availability, losses in productivity, and related issues.

I am pleased to say that a series of my papers on this topic has now been accepted for publication, the first of which, was on food. The paper, "Perishable Food Supply Chain Networks with Labor in the Covid-19 Pandemic," is now in press in the refereed, edited volume: Dynamics of Disasters - Impact, Risk, Resilience, and Solutions,  I.S. Kotsireas, A. Nagurney, P.M. Pardalos, and A. Tsokas, Editors, Springer International Publishing Switzerland, 2021.

This paper explicitly captures the perishability of food from points of production to points of demand. The firm is considered to be a profit-maximizer and also encumbers costs associated with paying for labor. Each link in the supply chain network has a bound on the labor availability and also a productivity factor associated with labor. The demands for the food items are assumed to be elastic.

In the second paper in the series, "Optimization of Supply Chain Networks with Inclusion of Labor: Applications to COVID-19 Pandemic, now in press in The International Journal of Production Economics, I turn to expanding the ideas in the first paper, with a focus on healthcare products, and with consideration of 3 different sets of constraints on labor, under, first elastic demand, and then, under fixed demands. The latter is important since in the case of certain products, especially healthcare ones, demand may be inelastic when it comes to price.

And, in the third paper in this series, "Supply Chain Game Theory Network Modeling Under Labor Constraints: Applications to the Covid-19 Pandemic," I utilize game theory to consider three different sets of constraints in a supply chain network model consisting of multiple competing firms. The paper is now available online in the European Journal of Operational Research. Therein, I also capture three sets of constraints for labor but, now, in the case of two of the sets, the firms compete for labor. In this work, the first model is a Nash Equilibrium one, whereas the other two are Generalized Nash Equilibrium models.

The above work integrates economics and operations research and the underlying methodological formalism is that of the theory of variational inequalities.

This series of papers further inspired me to write an article for The Conversation, entitled: "Vaccine delays reveal unexpected weak link in supply chains: A shortage of workers."

I was honored to be, subsequently, invited to write a follow-up article, "In the End, It's All About People," by Kara Tucker, the new Editor of the INFORMS publication, ORMS Today

And, if you would like to learn more, please, feel free to listen to the INFORMS podcast: "Shining a light on the COVID-19 vaccine distribution," in which I am interviewed by Ashley Kilgore.

The three papers of mine, highlighted above, are all dedicated to essential workers! We are so grateful for their contributions in the past; in the pandemic, and wish them the very best in the future!

Friday, January 29, 2021

Optimism and Operations Research

Today I received info on a very interesting article sent via The Harvard Gazette e-list that spoke about optimism. I was a 2005-2006 Science Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, so I receive such mailings and enjoy such articles very much.

But, of course, you may be wondering how relevant is optimism in the pandemic? I suggest that you read the above article and I will share some highlights from my great professional discipline of Operations Research (OR) that makes me quite optimistic!

First, I must say that Operations Research, with its scientific, very powerful methodologies, and wide range of applications, coupled with the expertise of those in our profession, has never been more relevant than in the COVID-19 pandemic. The positive impact has been global, with many of our academic researchers and practitioners speaking to the media, writing OpEds, and, of course, journal articles, and also fostering education about numerous relevant issues from healthcare to vaccine supply chains. INFORMS, a professional society of over 11,000 members, for example, has compiled a wealth of resources along these lines, very accessible to the public as well as to policy and decision-makers.

Others have been advising governments and I have a special shout out to my great Operations Research colleagues in the UK on this!

Of course, the pandemic has caused incredible pain and suffering throughout the globe, but support and advocacy by professional societies such as INFORMS is helping in getting important news out. My "last" face to face conference before the declaration by the WHO of the pandemic on March 11, 2020, was the inaugural INFORMS Security Conference in Monterey, California in mid February 2020. Often I return to the wonderful memories and many of those are because of the  pleasant exchanges of colleagues at that conference, which I had blogged about. And, speaking of conferences, I was very touched by the essay, "Thanks for the Memories," by Peter Horner, who has served for 30 years as the Editor of ORMS Today! There is a photo therein of Peter with Harrison Schramm, who, coincidentally, was an organizer of the conference in Monterey (and appears with me in a photo in my blogpost, along with Professor Stefan Pickl of Germany). Luckily, Peter will continue as Editor of the Analytics online magazine of INFORMS.

Now, more on optimism. I would like to single out and applaud the efforts of AIRO Young, which is  a group of young researchers, part of the Italian Operational Research Society. Their energy, enthusiasm, and initiatives are all cause for optimism!

For example, in the relatively new journal, SN Operations Research Forum, published by Springer, there is the article, Women Just Wanna Have OR: Young Researchers Interview Expert Researchers, co-authored by Amorosi, Cavagnini, Del Sasso, Fischetti, Morandi, and Raffaele (all members of AIRO Young),  which is quite inspiring. Although so much remains to be done, much has been accomplished and I was so honored to be interviewed for this article, along with amazing colleagues: Professors Carvalho, Romero Morales, Ljubic, Labbe, and Speranza, speaking from many different countries about their experiences and offering many pearls of wisdom.

Also, Alice Raffaele,  in her very eloquent, literary article: Becoming Visible: Why We Should be Better Communicators Now has excellent suggestions for our professional community, further generating optimism. 

Thanks to SN Operations Research Forum for making the above (and other) articles available for everyone to read online!

I would also like to thank the amazing students who are behind the publication ORMS Tomorrow, supported by INFORMS. Two of my former PhD students, now Professors, Dr. Pritha Duttaof Pace University in NYC and Dr. Shivani Shukla of the University of San Francisco, worked on this publication when they were students at the Isenberg School.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Beginning My 13th Year of Blogging

Hard to believe that not only is the horrific 2020 year behind us, but that this month marks the beginning of my 13th year of blogging! Interestingly, I went back to my very first blogpost, which was on the new US administration in 2009 and the election of President Barack Obama. In the post, I also noted a Letter to the Editor that I had had published in The New York Times, which spoke about how much I enjoyed teaching my Transportation and Logistics class. And I taught this class, albeit remotely, this past Fall because of the pandemic. Now, once again, we have a new incoming administration, to be led by President-elect Joe Biden, and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, on the horizon!

2020 has been a remarkable year in human history and there is now hope because of the Covid-19 vaccines. It was a year in which so many in our profession pivoted to inform the public through their writings, virtual speaking engagements, and many interviews with the media. I learnt so much from speaking to many journalists from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Chicago Tribune, and The Boston Globe, as well as numerous other publications, including industry-based ones. It was a pleasure to be on NBC News in Boston and in Dallas and to also be on many radio programs, including NPR and Marketplace (and, remarkably, quite a few of the holiday cards that we received noted that I had been heard by friends and relatives from near and far)! I so much enjoyed the intellectual exchanges with journalists that I wrote a tribute to them in a recent blogpost. One journalist thanked me for my blog and reached out to me because of my writings. In addition, during this pandemic I managed to write three articles in The Conversation on the impacts of the pandemic on blood supply chains; game theory and competition for medical supplies (and now relevant to vaccines), plus the vaccine cold chain. These articles generated a great deal of interest and I was honored to be written up by the Isenberg School of Management and the University of Massachusetts Amherst in its 2020 Report on Research with the photo below on the back cover of this report.

With all the disruptions and pain and suffering caused by the pandemic, I am thankful that we managed to continue our research at the Supernetwork Center, with several articles of relevance to supply chains in the pandemic written. Also, our newest Dynamics of Disasters volume, will be published soon by Springer.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank professional societies, including INFORMS, for the support during the pandemic and for nurturing professional exchanges and community. I look forward to the time; hopefully, before too long, when we can again meet face to face at conferences and other venues. In the meantime, best wishes for this New 2021 Year!