Thursday, February 11, 2010

Mathematical systems help in decision-making following natural disasters

Science Daily: A team of mathematicians from the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM) has developed a computer application that estimates the magnitude of natural disasters and helps non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the decision making process. The researchers have also presented an on-site humanitarian aid distribution model. Both could have been applied in the case of the recent Haiti earthquake.

"The Sistema Experto para el Diagnóstico en Desastres (SEDD) (Expert System for Disaster Diagnosis) is a natural-disaster diagnosis and prediction computer tool to help NGOs in strategic decision making," Begoña Vitoriano, co-author of a study published this month in the Knowledge-Based Systems Journal, and professor of the Statistics and Operative Research Department of the UCM Mathematics Faculty, explains.

The program starts by taking information about the type of disaster (earthquake, flood, hurricane, tsunami, fire, etc.), quantifiable units (Richter scale for earthquakes, wind speed for hurricanes, etc.) and a vulnerability measurement of the area. To obtain a vulnerability measurement, which is the most difficult to do, the scientists use the Human Development Index provided by the UN per country, and they modify it according to the situation of the affected region.

With these data, the computer application estimates the magnitude of the consequences of the catastrophe "in terms of fatalities, injuries, homeless people, others affected and cost," which is very useful information for NGOs. These variables have been chosen from the Disaster Epidemiology Research Centre database of Lovaina University (Belgium), which is a WHO collaborating centre.

…Juan Tinguaro Rodríguez, also a member of the UCM team, points out that "The decision aid system that we propose could have been applied perfectly following the recent Haiti earthquake, as it is centred around the assessment of the consequences of disasters such as this, where primary information is scarce, unreliable or, in general, of low quality."

…Another application developed by these mathematicians and that has just been published in the Journal of Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis, is a humanitarian aid distribution systems (HADS). The tool is based on the use of a logistics map of the territory, with nodes (localities) and connections (streets and roads). The "graph" includes aid demand in some nodes (affected populations), supply in others (airports, ports or stores), availability and characteristics of vehicles (type, capacity, speed, cost), as well as data on connections (distances, condition of roads, risk of attack)….

Earthquake damage in Haiti, shot by UN Photo/Logan Abassi , Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

1 comment:

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