Decision Support Tools for Debris Operations in Natural and Man- Made Disasters

Posted March 24, 2011 | Atlanta, GA

The amount of debris generated by some large-scale disasters is equivalent in volume to years of normal solid waste production in the affected areas. The U.N. estimates that the recent Haitian earthquake produced, at a minimum, 63 million cubic meters of debris, more than even Hurricane Katrina produced. The task of removing this debris could ”require a fleet of approximately 1,000 trucks working 24 hours a day for two years” and cost upwards of a billion dollars. Adding to the challenge, debris operations occur in three phases: clearance, collection and disposal.

  • Debris clearance refers to operations performed during or right after a hazardous event with the goal of clearing the debris from major arteries to give access to critical facilities and to aid in emergency relief operations.
  • Debris collection refers to transportation of the debris from the disaster area to collection sites. This phase must be done in a timely fashion as long-term standing debris can cause serious risks to the affected area, including threat of disease or chemicals spilling into the environment.
  • Debris disposal refers to transportation of the debris to the final disposal sites and the choice of the disposal method (e.g., landfill, reduce, recycle or reuse) for a given debris type at a given location.

Thus, there is a tremendous need for decision support tools that can aid in evaluating the long- and short-term costs and impacts of the interrelated decisions necessary for managing debris operations.

Ozlem Ergun and Pinar Keskinocak are working on developing mathematical models and analysis for aiding decision support in all three phases of the debris operations. In this context, they have collaborated with FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers and local EMAs. Furthermore, a team from Georgia Tech went to Haiti for data collection and situational assessment last year. Click here to view a multi-media presentation of their trip. They have been active in disseminating their findings to impact policy decisions in the Haitian recovery.


For more information contact:

Barbara Christopher
Industrial and Systems Engineering
404.385.3102