Typhoon Haiyan made its landfall in central-eastern Philippines, with a wind speed exceeding 195 miles per hour. It left behind thousands dead, and hundreds of thousands homeless and in need of aid. The challenge becomes how to clear the debris so responders can deliver the aid. Professor Pinar Keskinocak and Associate Professor Ozlem Ergun are co-directors of Georgia Tech’s Center for Health and Humanitarian Logistics. They and Ph.D. student Melih Celik explain what’s next in the clean-up process.
For early responders to Typhoon Haiyan, the main focus was to move people, machinery and aid into the affected areas. However, this was deemed a challenging task, since many neighborhoods were inundated with water and roads were blocked by post-disaster debris.
In large-scale disasters clearance and disposal of post-disaster debris plays an important role, both in responding to and recovering from the disaster. Within the first few days following the disaster, roads have to be cleared of debris, so that response activities such as search-and-rescue, relief aid distribution, and transportation of people can proceed.
During this response phase, resources available for debris clearance are often very limited, and information about the amount and the type of debris in the affected areas is also mostly unavailable. Hence, clearance activities often take place in an environment with high uncertainty and low resources, challenging the decision makers on how to prioritize the roads for clearance. Road clearance decisions can mean life or death for the affected people, depending on which areas can be accessed by responders delivering aid, and how quickly.
Once the immediate response operations are complete, debris needs to be collected and transported to processing centers or landfills in a timely manner, since decomposing chemicals and other hazardous materials pose a threat to human health and the environment. The amount of debris generated is so large (usually millions of cubic yards) that this process might take months or even years.
An important challenge in an island nation such as the Philippines is the availability of limited space for debris disposal. Recent experience from the 2011 cascading disasters in Japan shows that recycling is an effective, but challenging alternative to disposal.
In the U.S., importance of post-disaster debris management has been increasingly realized after Hurricane Katrina, where more than 25% of disaster related costs were attributed to debris management operations. The Federal Emergency Management Agency requires that all local communities propose a debris management plan for the disasters that can potentially affect their region. These plans generally focus on determining what activities should be performed, assigning responsibilities, and monitoring activities. There is an important gap for determining how the activities should be performed, indicating need for analytics and decision support.
Georgia Tech's Center for Health and Humanitarian Logistics (HHL) has developed models for various stages of the debris management process, in collaboration with officials from FEMA, US Army Corps of Engineers, and local communities. The center has also developed user-friendly decision support tools to support pre-disaster planning and post-disaster operations.
For more information, or to schedule an interview, please contact: