Center Prepares for Second Global Conference

The Center for Health and Humanitarian Logistics, established in 2007 under the umbrella of the Supply Chain & Logistics Institute (SCL) in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISYE), is prepping for its second international conference in as many years.

2010 Conference on Health and Humanitarian Logistics
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2010 Conference on Health and Humanitarian Logistics

The 2010 Conference on Health and Humanitarian Logistics will build on the success of last year’s inaugural effort, offering panel presentations and discussions, workshops and poster sessions, with speakers and registrants from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), industry, government, military, foundations, and academia. The main sessions of the conference will spread over one-and-a-half days with three parallel focused workshops in the afternoon of the second day, compared to a one-day program and two workshops last year.

“We have two panels similar to last year, one on ‘Disaster Preparedness, Response, and Post-Disaster Operations’ and the other on ‘Long-Term Development and Sustainability,’” said center co-director and ISyE Associate Professor Pinar Keskinocak. “Disasters are a very important part of humanitarian operations, so we decided it is important to include that topic again, especially given the recent events in Haiti. However, the other panels are different. In particular, ‘health’ was not a large focus area at the conference last year, but it has more presence this year.”

Attendees of the 2009 conference included representatives from government, industry and academia. “We received very positive feedback both verbally and through conference evaluation forms,” said ISyE Associate Professor Julie Swann. “Almost everyone said they would come back to another conference, both from the academic and organization side.”

This year’s conference will be held March 4 and 5 at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center. Scheduled keynote speakers include Rear Admiral Scott Deitchman, associate director for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response with the National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and Armond Mascelli, vice president for Disaster Services, Operations, with the American Red Cross. Other speakers include representatives from the Department of Homeland Security, Doctors Without Borders, CARE, the Clinton Foundation, Yale University, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the United Nations World Food Programme.

Panel discussions will feature representatives from various organizations and cover topics that are timely and critical within this sector. Descriptions of posters to be placed on view during the conference are available on the conference Web site.

ISyE Associate Professors Ozlem Ergun, Keskinocak and Swann co-founded the center to improve logistics for humanitarian efforts around manmade or natural disasters. By working with non-governmental organizations, governments and private industry, the center strives to improve communications between these groups, as well as present them with the research and practical applications to improve logistics.

By building on expertise and activities around its key pillars—education, outreach, and research and applications—the center focuses on both research and hands-on projects with various organizations; works to create an environment for networking and communications among these organizations; and advances the science and technology behind health and humanitarian logistics.

“Our main interest is in improving the human condition through the applications of analytics,” Keskinocak said. “Quantitative tools, such as simulation, optimization and statistics, as well as methods in logistics and supply chain management within the domain expertise of ISyE, can inform and support decisions in various areas such as resource allocation, disaster relief or long-term development.”

The center’s genesis was in a graduate course offered in Spring 2007 where teams of students engaged governments, NGOs, and private industry with projects on disaster preparedness and response and health applications such as infection control and vaccine scheduling. “Some of these organizations had never worked with a university or with ISyE before,” Keskinocak said. “We also found out that the collaboration among these organizations has been very limited when it comes to relief efforts.”

At the center’s outset, the three co-directors contacted and explored areas for collaboration with several organizations and companies active in humanitarian response. Ergun, Keskinocak and Swann acknowledge the support of several other ISyE faculty members, such as Professor Dave Goldsman and Professor John H. Vande Vate, in helping them make connections with some of these organizations, such as CARE and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the past two years, the center worked with the World Food Programme (WFP) and provided assistance in modeling and improving the largest humanitarian organization’s entire global network. “We help model [the WFP’s supply chain] to see what we can do to improve it, in the interest of cost and efficiency, for the people they serve,” Ergun said. “We’ve had some successes in that several of our recommendations have been taken.” From both the educational and research perspective, Ergun said that 15 students are currently working or had worked with the WFP over the last two years.

In addition to forming the center, the three co-directors had worked together and separately on several related efforts. Keskinocak and Swann have created the subgroup “Public Programs, Service and Needs” for the professional organization INFORMS (Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences) focusing on societal impact issues. Ergun was the co-chair of a committee that established a student paper competition focused on promoting research with societal impact, “Doing Good with Good OR” within INFORMS.

Sponsors for the 2010 Health and Humanitarian Logistics Conference  include the Coca-Cola Co., United Parcel Service, Kuehne + Nagel, and various units at Georgia Tech including SCL, Health Systems Institute, ISyE, College of Engineering, Distance Learning and Professional Education (DLPE), the College of Computing and Georgia Tech Research Institute.

Both the conference and the center, Swann says, are serving to present the Institute’s expertise to solve problems and to educate students. “Both students and these organizations became aware of what Tech can offer,” she said. “Georgia Tech is a practice-oriented institution. We’re solving real-world problems.”