The following is a special contribution to this blog from Nabil R. Adam, a professor of computer and information systems and director of the recently-established information Technology for Emergency mAnageMent (i-TEAM) Research Laboratory at Rutgers University. Nabil has been on leave as a fellow at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate for the last four years, and in June 2010, he organized and ran a workshop focused on emergency management. Here Nabil summarizes the workshop and some of the key themes that emerged.
The Department of Homeland Security recently hosted a workshop titled “Emergency Management: Incident, Resource, and Supply Chain Management” at the University of California-Irvine’s Center for Emergency Response Technologies. The objective of the workshop was to provide a forum for researchers, subject matter experts, and practitioners dealing with emergency management to assess the current state of the art, identify challenges, and provide input to developing strategies for addressing these challenges.
From the discussions during the workshop, it was clear that emergency management poses unique challenges — such as varied temporal and spatial scales, uncertainty and unpredictability, compromised wireless and physical information infrastructures, lack of access to disaster sites, and distributed sources of information and expertise, etc. — that necessitate fundamental advances in computing and information science and engineering. Indeed, opportunities abound to advance not only the state-of-the-art in emergency management but also computing broadly, including real-time data sensing and analysis; predictive modeling and simulation; human-computer interaction; computer vision and robotics; wireless networks; and social networking.
The workshop ultimately focused on three critical components of emergency management: incident management; resource management; and supply chain management. In this blog post, I summarize the key themes that emerged within each of these critical components (more following the link…).
Incident management refers to activities and measures undertaken to protect life and property immediately before (for disasters where there is at least some warning period), during, and immediately after a disaster. Such activities may span a few hours to days or even weeks, depending upon the magnitude of the event. Based on the nature and scale of the disaster, responding to an event may require a coordinated effort on the part of virtual organizations, consisting of a potentially large network of diverse city, county, state, and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, and the public at large, operating under the Incident Command System (ICS) and the National Incident Management System (NIMS). Such coordination across the broad spectrum of organizations and activities for handling day-to-day incidents as well as large-scale incidents is guided by NIMS and the National Response Framework (NRF). Some standards related to incident management include the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM); Universal Core (UCore); Common Alerting Protocol (CAP); and Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Standards for Sensor Web Enablement and Geographic Information System (GIS) Data Sharing. Vital components of community-based situational awareness are alerting systems that make a significant difference to the overall efficacy of the response during disasters, particularly with respect to lives saved. Social media has simply added a new dimension — and a new intensity — to these forms of collective behavior.
Workshop participants agreed that the primary research challenges in this area include the following:
- Develop Mechanisms/tools to accurately monitor and assess dynamically evolving situations at both the field and regional levels;
- Seamless mechanisms to share information and resources for incident response amongst dynamically formed evolving disaster networks;
- Effective Warning and Notification Systems that solicit the right response from the community; and
- Effective Large-Scale Evacuation Planning.
Resource management involves delivery of the needed resources, including personnel, equipment, supplies, data, and computational resources, in an efficient and timely manner. This requires coordination among all federal, state, local, tribal, private-sector, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Challenges in meeting the resource requirements arise from the magnitude and geographic setting of the disaster and the level of coordination required across heterogeneous government organizations, as well as the number of people involved in the operation.
Collaboration among the different agencies and jurisdictions to share their resources during times of disaster are facilitated by mutual aid agreements. These agreements can be made among agencies, jurisdictions, and private-sector entities within the same state or across state boundaries. Additionally, there are statewide and interstate mutual-aid agreements. For timely delivery and deployment of resources through mutual aid, it is crucial to achieve automation in every phase of the resource management process. The degree of automation for resource management and sharing varies from state to state and from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Achieving visibility and sharing of both organizational and community-based resources in an efficient, automated, and timely manner require the following components: resource databases; workflow system for resource management and coordination; credentialing system for accrediting personnel; and mechanisms to specify and realize sharing policies and mutual aid agreements.
Thus, opportunities exist for:
- Creating a national-level federated resource tracking and management system;
- Incorporating community resources including infrastructure into a resource management framework;
- Extending mutual aid concept beyond materials, equipment and personnel; and
- Leveraging data and experiences gained from previous disasters as a resource to better understand the disaster context and bring transformational improvements to response processes and plans.
Finally, supply chain management is the flow of products, people, information, or money from a starting point (for example, raw materials) to the end user. The goal of supply chain management is to get the right product, service, or information to the right customer at the right price at the right time. A disaster supply chain is not static, but rather may change over the timeline of an emergency. The supply chain may go through phases, such as:
- preplanning and mitigation, before emergencies, including training exercises;
- assessment of need after an emergency occurs (including both short- and medium-term needs), and response;
- a period of recovery (typically longer-term, such as FEMA’s efforts in the Gulf Region following Hurricane Katrina); and
- evaluation and assessment.
To meet these phases, the supply chain and associated processes may also experience an initiation phase (for example, lining up suppliers and identifying distribution points), a ramp-up phase (where product begins to flow), an operational phase (where flow may achieve some stability), and a ramp-down phase (where flows may decrease as needs decrease or as a community rebuilds its local capacity). The supply chain needs to be sustainable throughout these phases and the overall emergency timeline.
Unique characteristics of disaster supply chains include: uncertainty; limited infrastructure in the disaster-affected area; decentralized control; limited capacity; limited information; dynamic-nature of the environment; and difference of inventory management models. Thus, the research community can aid by:
- Developing support tools for enhanced disaster supply chain management;
- Design modeling disaster supply chains, taking into account interdependencies and cascading effects;
- Information sharing within and across the disaster supply chain; and
- Joining forces via public–private partnerships for enhanced disaster supply chain and socio-economic resiliency.
Overall, the efficacy and performance of emergency management (measured in terms of saving of lives and property, effective containment of disaster, prevention of cascades and crisis escalation, and speed of recovery) depend not only on how well each individual component performs but, more importantly, on the performance of the overall integrated system, comprising incident management, resource management, and supply chain management component systems.
In order to realize such an integrated system, there is a need for an infrastructure that supports integration of processes across the component systems and enables decision makers at various levels to deal with complex decisions that cut across the component systems and consider their interdependencies.
Some of the cross-cutting research challenges therefore include:
- Decision-making models need to address issues across the three component systems (IM, RM, SCM) with technology solutions;
- Community collaboration, partnerships, and participation;
- Enhancing Socio-economic Resiliency and Sustainability; and
- Communication and computation demands for current and future crisis response in an integrated EM System.
To learn more, see details about the workshop here.