Mathematics turned to helping disaster relief after Philippine typhoon

Nov. 12, 2013 at 5:29 PM
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IOWA CITY, Iowa, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- Mathematics and logistics can improve relief efforts like those under way after Typhoon Haiyan plowed through the Philippines, a U.S. scientist says.

Management sciences Professor Ann Campbell at the University of Iowa is an expert on transportation logistics, and has turned to researching more efficient methods for governments, agencies and businesses to transport relief supplies to disaster areas where roads, ports and airports are all but destroyed.

Her specialty -- vehicle routing -- uses mathematical and computer modeling to develop quicker, more efficient ways to move supplies and personnel from one place to another.

Although her research normally is aimed at business supply chains and commercial activities, she says the same research tools can meet the challenge of disaster logistics.

"Commercial supply chains are focused on quality and profitability," Campbell said. "Humanitarian supply chains are focused on minimizing loss of life and suffering, and distribution is focused on equity and fairness much more than in commercial applications."

Campbell's current research is focused on helping drivers in the Philippines learn what roads are still usable and which have become impassable as a result of the disaster, so that emergency workers will know before setting out which path least likely to be damaged.

"We want to give drivers a recommended path and some back-up options in case they encounter road failures," she said. "In a disaster, it is important to recognize that information on road conditions is slow to come in. Also, cell phones usually don't work so it is important to give drivers as much information as possible before they leave the depot with supplies."

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