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Saving Lives in Natural Disasters

After the Shaking Stops: Crunch the Numbers

UC Riverside Research Shows How Mathematical Business Management Models Can Help Save Lives in Human Disasters

(April 30, 2010)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( -- A mathematical model that takes into account available expertise, travel time and likely survival rates could save crucial hours and result in saving more lives in natural disasters such as the recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile.

"Until now, we have not had sufficiently good models and tools for such complex operations as international disaster relief. It hasn't been sufficiently addressed before in a theoretical way,” said Erik Rolland, a co-author of “Decision Support for Disaster Management” published in the most recent issue of the journal Operations Management Research.

Rolland, a professor of information systems at the School of Business Administration at UC Riverside, also worked with Professor Bajis Dodin (UCR) and Ray Patterson, a management information systems professor at the Alberta School of Business in Canada, as well as Professor Keith Ward, formerly of UCR, now of St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas.

“We do have good measures for life-expectancy for earth-quake survival – meaning a time beyond which search for survivors does not make sense,” Rolland said. “It sounds callous, but there are known time measures for supplying drinking water, corpse removal, and other necessary assistance provision activities.” A computer model, he said, can quickly spell out the minimum expected time between tasks based on moving equipment between locations.
Some tasks can not be done until others are completed. Some agencies have certain equipment located in a specific spot. All of that can be documented and then reordered based on new information on the ground.

Human judgment is often supplying the order of things in a crisis. But in Haiti, many members of the upper echelons of government, the U.N. and police - people who make decisions and keep order - died in the earthquake.

“The ability to deal simultaneously with the combination of scheduling and assignment in near-real time also translates to an ability to re-solve the problem as conditions on the ground change,” said Rolland.

The field of Management Science has been offering and applying formulas for the efficient management of scarce resources for decades. “It started in the management of manufacturing processes, and now it is heavily used in managing all kinds of services, including political campaigns,” said Bajis Dodin. “This new research just applies the same principles to the kinds of natural disasters like we have seen in Haiti and Chile.”



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