Thursday, May 5, 2022

Thanking the Fabulous Guest Speakers in my Humanitarian Logistics and Healthcare Class

Now that the Spring 2022 semester has come to a close (except for some grading), I thought it important to publicly thank and recognize the outstanding guest speakers in my Humanitarian Logistics and Healthcare class this term.  In this class, we cover many relevant topics in disaster management, as well as applications to current events, and having experts, who are very knowledgeable in terms of practice, speak to my students, provides for a transformative educational experience.

The class met Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Isenberg School of Management at 8:30AM. Amazingly, and this speaks to the interest of the students in the class, there were several students who would arrive before me, shortly after 8:00AM, which I found very inspiring.

On February 17, 2022, we had the honor of having Mr. Vince Mullen, who is a Major in the Massachusetts National Guard, and who is also the VP of Operations at JP Morgan in Boston, as our first guest speaker. He traveled about 2 hours from eastern MA, and appeared in military dress to speak to my students. The topic of his presentation was: "The Military and Humanitarian Logistics and Healthcare." He spoke about his experiences responding to the earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010 and the logistical and other challenges encountered in the relief efforts. He also discussed how his experiences in the army and the National Guard have helped him as an Executive in a financial services firm, including having very logical thinking skills and being able to adapt to dynamic, evolving situations. Major Mullen also shared with us information about his participation in Phases I and III of the National Guard's COVID response operations. Soldiers’ mission included handling medical supplies, swabbing, transportation, and driving school buses. The constraints included: a lack of vaccines at the time, a lack of organization, non-medical training background of soldiers, and addressing the fundamental question: Where is the need? In Massachusetts alone, the Guard's COVID response has included the logistical issues of handling 1000 soldiers, 69 hospitals, 40 nursing homes, 12 ambulances, 13 dialysis centers, 95000 shift hours, 64000 observed patients, 4500 transported EMS, and 74000 delivered meals.

I found it profoundly moving, as did the students, how much Major Mullen cared about helping disaster victims. I am so grateful for his exceptional service for many years!

The second guest speaker was Dr. Denise Sumpf, who is the highest ranking UN official in Armenia. Her guest lecture took place on February 24, 2022, which, you may recall, is the date of the latest invasion of Ukraine, a sovereign country, by Russia. Dr. Sumpf had taken part in a UN Security Council meeting just hours before her guest presentation, in which she spoke virtually to my class from Yerevan, Armenia. She spoke about the situation between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the many challenges associated with Nagorno-Karabakh. She also discussed the UN cluster approach, which was great, since this reinforced some of the material I had covered in my lectures. Dr. Sumpf also continued to bring up the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. And, clearly, our world has, sadly, dramatically changes since February 24, 2022.

I had hosted Dr. Sumpf a while back in our UMass Amherst INFORMS Speaker Series, when she was based in NYC with the United Nations. She contributed a very interesting co-authored chapter, "The Impact of the Syria Crisis on Lebanon," to the first Dynamics of Disasters volume that I co-edited with Professors Ilias S. Kotsireas and Panos M. Pardalos. It was very special to have her speak to my class.

On March 10, 2022, Ms. Lauren Ulrich, the Executive Director, Operations Management & Logistics, American Red Cross, spoke to my class virtually.  She leads the teams necessary to carry out the key functions for major Red Cross relief operations including incident command, operations management, planning, logistics, finance, and external relations. They have the responsibility for the readiness, planning, resourcing, and implementation of scalable response operations to meet the needs of disaster clients for large-scale Red Cross domestic disaster operations, including across all U.S. States, Territories, and Commonwealths. In her amazing career (she had also been a Marine), Ms. Ulrich has taken part in  multitude operations ranging from Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom; to international disaster response operations, including the Haiti Earthquake, Typhoon Haiyan, and Alberta Floods; to domestic disaster response operations, including Hurricane Sandy, Michigan Water Crisis, Hurricane Harvey, and the California Wildfires! Support, according to Ms. Ulrich, must be repeatable and scalable with the disaster response necessitating speed to market and speed to scale. Speed to market means having access to the required assets for help and shelter, and speed to scale means scaling from  a single home to tens of thousands of homes in 72 hours. Holistically, the logistics team’s mission is to have the required assets to get the volunteers on the ground in 2 hours and to hold the ground for 72 hours while quickly scaling up. She also shared with us the challenges associated with disaster response in the COVID pandemic and how she and her boss were very well-prepared in terms of PPEs, since the Red Cross was closely following the spread of the coronavirus globally, already in January 2020. Her lecture was incredibly engaging and informative.

The fourth guest speaker was UMass Amherst's very own Dr. Peter Reinhart! Dr. Reinhart is the founding Director of the Institute for Applied Life Science (IALS) at UMass Amherst and has more than 25 years of R&D management experience in academia (Duke University), biotechnology (Cogent Neuroscience, Proteostasis Therapeutics), and large pharma (Wyeth, Pfizer). He  came to the University of Massachusetts Amherst from the Cambridge MA biotechnology company, Proteostasis Therapeutics (PTI), where he was President and Chief Scientific Officer. Dr. Reinhart shared with us how the incredibly effective and, frankly, life-saving, in my opinion, COVID-19 Testing Center at UMass was founded from scratch. As of April 2020, when UMass shut down and reverted to online teaching, 750 scientists in the Applied Life Sciences building had to stay at home. That was when he thought that they could use these human resources and talent to form the Testing Center. He made the idea into a “white paper” and handed it to be reviewed by Chancellor Subbaswamy.  After a month, Chancellor permitted Dr. Reinhart to start the project, who came up with a timeline to make it functional in 100 days, from the preliminary processes and operational foundations to the beginning of the testing. This required exceptional logistics, team work, planning, scientific expertise, legal interventions, and even the assistance of Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker. Thousands of students, faculty, and staff and members of our community have benefited from the exceptional convenience and turn around time and accuracy of the UMass Amherst COVID Testing Center. We are all so proud of this truly exceptional achievement in the service of our community during the pandemic and so grateful!

The fifth and final guest speaker was Professor Ladimer S. Nagurney of the University of Hartford, who spoke in person on April 26, 2022. The topic of his guest lecture was: "Disaster Communications." He even brought hardware to demonstrate to the students. The slide deck of his lecture can be downloaded here.

He discussed many interesting topics with some of the highlights being the disruptions to communications after the volcanic eruption in Tonga (and the restoration efforts) and the importance of communications to the war efforts of  Ukraine against the Russian aggressors.

Many thanks to these outstanding guest speakers, who took the time from their very busy schedules to share their important insights and experiences with my Humanitarian Logistics and Healthcare class!