Anna Nagurney’s fighting fires these days. Earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, cyber-hackings, and famines too. Everything in her email box may as well be marked “urgent.”
Nagurney, the John F. Smith memorial professor of operations management and director of the school’s Virtual Center for Supernetworks, studies how supply chains can be optimized to respond to global crises. There’s no shortage of events to study—and no time to waste.
“The number of disasters is growing, as is the number of people affected,” Nagurney observes. “Disaster relief is becoming more complex now that half the population lives in urban centers.” Rebuilding takes months, even years.
Nagurney, who has been studying disasters for the past decade, creates game theory models to figure out how humanitarian organizations and governments can best respond. Her recent paper, “An Integrated Financial and Logistical Game Theory Model for Humanitarian Organizations with Purchasing Costs, Multiple Freight Service Providers, and Budget, Capacity, and Demand Constraints” (International Journal of Production Economics, 2019) is loosely based on Hurricane Harvey, which hit Houston in 2017, affecting 13 million people and causing about $125 billion in damage. The paper sheds new light on how humanitarian organizations inadvertently drive up the cost of goods by competing with each other. They want to buy and ship supplies to the same affected areas, competing for limited capacity on the same handful of freight service providers. Logistics represent about 80 percent of all disaster relief expenses, according to Nagurney and colleagues, so better understanding the dynamics could be powerful in stretching relief funds and reducing suffering.
Most supply chains are created based on predictable demand. But disasters require extraordinary, often improvised, supply chains. Massive amounts of goods need to move rapidly through damaged infrastructure. Often, the need is most acute in the least-accessible places. In a 2016 study focused on Hurricane Katrina, Nagurney found that areas that were easiest and cheapest to reach end up oversupplied, while people in other areas suffered and died. In last year’s Hurricane Harvey-inspired paper, Nagurney and co-authors Mojtaba Salarpour (Isenberg PhD student) and Patrizia Daniele (University of Catania, Italy), modeled out the complexity of buying goods during relief efforts.
“This paper differs from previous work in that we include, among other features, purchasing and shipment from multiple locations, under budget constraints, and also objective functions that include benefit/altruism,” Nagurney and colleagues write. Though based on a hurricane in an urban setting, this model can be “applied to other problems and sets of circumstances where providers are competing for resources and facing common constraints,” Nagurney notes.
Based on the data, Nagurney et al. conclude that it’s useful for a “higher level authority”—a national government or central coordinating agency—to create guidelines for the amount of disaster relief supplies to be shipped to demand points. Such strategies will allow supplies to be distributed faster and more economically, making relief funds stretch further.
Mentoring and a mission
When Nagurney got her PhD at Brown University in 1983, she had one female professor—an expert in applied math and engineering who was counted twice to boost the numbers. Decades later, women are still hugely underrepresented in supply chain management, but Nagurney has built a powerful network. She has chaired dissertation committees for 21 PhD candidates (10 men and 11 women) and made sure those relationships prosper beyond graduation day. Several times a year, she hosts dinners and reunions while attending conferences around the world. Former students have hired more recent graduates, and/or have turned into collaborators and co-authors on research projects.
This is what happens when your interest is more than “academic”—when you believe that supply chains optimized for delivering food, medicine, water, and fuel can ease suffering, help societies recover and, ultimately, protect global stability.
“I am completely in love with this work,” she says. “The ideas don’t stop.”
In May, Anna Nagurney was elected a 2019 Fellow of the Network Science Society, an interdisciplinary body that aims to bring under one umbrella a wide variety of researchers and stakeholders with direct interest in network science, from physics to computer science, biology, social sciences, economics. The ceremony took place as part of the 2019 NetSci Conference in Burlington, Vermont.
Nagurney was cited "For sustained contributions to network science, including the formulation, analysis, and computation of solutions to engineered network systems, from congested urban transportation to supply chains, under varied decision-making behaviors." She was one of seven Fellows elected in 2019. The Network Science Society is an interdisciplinary body, aiming to bring under one umbrella a wide variety of researchers and stakeholders with direct interest in network science, from physics to computer science, biology, social sciences, economics, and so on.
In July, Nagurney received the 2019 Constantin Caratheodory Prize at the World Congress on Global Optimization in Metz, France, where she delivered the plenary talk, “Tariffs and Quotas in Global Trade: What Networks, Game Theory, and Variational Inequalities Reveal.” The prize is given by the International Society of Global Optimization to recognize “fundamental contributions to theory, algorithms, and applications of global optimization.”