Students Learn Crisis Management in Innovative Isenberg Course

July 24, 2012

Photo credit: The California National GuardPhoto credit: The California National GuardIsenberg and other students learned a great deal about crisis management and planning in Humanitarian Logistics and Healthcare, an innovative new course offered last spring at Isenberg. "My goal was to give our students the tools and mindset to act decisively and adaptably in human crises like storms and earthquakes, food shortages, financial contagions, and pandemics," explains John F. Smith Memorial Professor of Operations Management Anna Nagurney. "Preparedness and responsiveness to emergencies, after all, are critical aspects of management."


In class, the students studied vulnerability assessment and risk management. They learned the importance of building resilient relief infrastructures, including emergency supply chains and communications networks. They met with disaster experts from the Red Cross, National Guard, academe, and industry. And they completed hands-on team projects that critiqued and offered recommendations for relief plans and agencies.


"My team's project, which critiqued FEMA's (Federal Emergency Management Agency) disaster communications system, made a case for thorough and resilient planning for emergencies," notes Nick DeJoie '12, a graduating senior in Operations Management. "You need to have the best possible plan in place before a disaster strikes so you can respond decisively," he remarks. "That means identifying all the emergency responders, supply chains, and communities in a target network, and testing and retesting communications to and from them. You also need to identify potential road blocks to the flow of information and supplies and have back-up plans and systems."


To its credit, notes DeJoie, FEMA has moved decisively in that direction since receiving criticism for its performance in Katrina and other storms. "Among other things, my team recommended that the agency conduct more Emergency Alert Systems tests, give more free public workshops, and make far more use of social media like Google, Facebook, and Twitter," he explains.


"A goal in emergency planning for humanitarian networks is to save the most lives in the shortest timespan," observes Yara Yousseff, a Ph.D. candidate in Health Policy & Management. Yousseff's interdisciplinary project team, which included two students from Isenberg-Ph.D. candidate Dong Li (Management Science) and Craig Lynch '12 Operations Management-dissected the evacuation plan at a psychiatric and long-term illness hospital in Cranston, Rhode Island. It also created a mathematical model that optimized the evacuation of patients in one of the hospital's buildings.


From her interview with the hospital's emergency preparedness coordinator, Yousseff and her teammates learned that a separate evacuation plan was in place in anticipation of each generic incident (e.g., fires, chemical spills, storms) that might arise. One common denominator across incidents, however, was to evacuate patients room by room horizontally to keep them within the safety of the hospital and to contain smoke, fire, and other threats. "We learned a great deal from our project about the art of planning, networking, and the management of humanitarian supplies," notes Yousseff. "We also learned to be ready to respond to surprises during emergencies and to incorporate what you've learned into your future planning. Red Cross teams are especially adept at that: they meet after each emergency to share what they've learned and improve future plans."


Professor Nagurney traces the inspiration for her innovative course to the conference-Humanitarian Logistics: Networks for Africa--which she organized in 2008 at the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Center in Lake Como, north of Milan. The gathering, which attracted human services practitioners from 12 nations, examined logistics and supply chain research, African field experiences, and logistics partnerships between the academic community, African, nations, and relief agencies.


Professor Nagurney's lecture notes for the course are here.


Practitioner visitors included Rick Lee, Red Cross; Col. James Sahady, Massachusetts National Guard; Jim Ettamarna '87, Avery Dennison; Tom O'Regan UMass Emergency Operations; Ladimer Nagurney, University of Hartford, Amir Masoumi Ph.D. Candidate, Isenberg