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.