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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 2 (2012 Deadline)

Integrated humanitarian logistics system for developing countries

PI: Victor Cantillo (Fundación Universidad del Norte)
U.S. Partner: José Holguin-Veras (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)
Project Dates: August 2013 - October 2016
Evidence to Action Supplement: August 2017 - November 2018

2-487 Community Outreach
PhD student Luis Macea working with local communities to gather data about disaster management practices (photo courtesy of Dr. Cantillo).
This project aims to contribute to the development of an integrated humanitarian logistics system for post-disaster relief response in developing countries. As part of the work, the research team will collaborate to propose humanitarian logistics models that explicitly incorporate a key aspect that has not been considered before: deprivation costs (i.e., the cost associated with lack of access to life-sustaining items). This is important in order to develop appropriate models capable of representing human suffering. The research is expected to produce algorithms and heuristics to solve and validate the proposed formulations and propose an effective emergency management system for post-disaster relief operations. This will lead to analytical formulations that properly consider the consequences of logistics decisions once populations have been impacted by disasters and, ultimately, to more effective and coordinated strategies to deliver critical supplies in developing countries. This research will be complemented with a plan to enhance project impacts by attracting students to careers in engineering at graduate level, integrating research and education, and reaching out to practitioners with training sessions in disaster response operations.
The importance and relevance of the proposed work has been evidenced by direct observations and field work conducted during recent humanitarian logistics efforts after super-storm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina, and the Joplin tornado, as well as the earthquake response in Haiti and the Dominican Republic and the response to the Japan earthquake and tsunami. Research conducted has highlighted the challenges of disaster relief systems in both developed and developing countries. These findings will be complemented with additional field work to be conducted by the team at ongoing disaster relief operations in Colombia. This proposal includes a close relationship with disaster relief operations agencies such as the local Emergency Disaster Response Office, which will work with the research team and social scientists in data collection regarding the last major disasters in Colombia. This work and coordination provides an excellent and unique opportunity, as the number of disasters in the country has shown a notable increase in the last few years, especially due to climate changes. It is expected that the analysis of the datasets and case studies and a review of best practices will allow the team to adapt them to the needs of developing countries and be able to propose a disaster management system that minimizes human suffering. Furthermore, this system can be used to provide training to relevant agencies to make their response as effective and efficient as possible. In that sense, practitioners will have first-hand exposure to the problem and possible ways to resolve it.
Summary of Recent Activities
[Note: Dr. Cantillo received a PEER Evidence to Action supplement in August 2017 to support a one-year outreach and capacity building effort as a follow on to his PEER Cycle 2 project, which was completed in October 2016. During the final stages of that project, the PI and his team worked on designing a model emergency management system, based on an analysis of current practices in developing countries but extending that to propose a model for the internal organization of the relevant government agencies consistent with the humanitarian logistics models the team had developed. Now, the researchers aim to apply the system they developed and propose specific policy recommendations regarding natural disaster preparedness and response. In particular, they will focus on the communities affected by floods in the Colombian Caribbean Region during the rainy season in 2010 and 2011. The first main objective is to train people in charge of disaster preparedness, mitigation, and response on policies that will ensure humanitarian assistance in areas with high levels of disaster risk, based on the results of the original PEER-supported research. The second aim is to develop a collaborative work plan with municipal and provincial authorities in the target communities in order to introduce the recommended policies in their strategic planning and investment process in preparation for potential disasters.]

The main activities for Dr. Cantillo and his team during the second and third quarters of 2018 focused on their training program on disaster preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery. They contacted collaborators from various agencies, including a member of the USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, Columbian government authorities, the Red Cross, firefighters, Civil Defense, non-governmental agencies, private companies, and social networks. The program was designed to serve people in charge of any processes involved in the disaster chain, giving them important tools for use in their daily work as decision makers in order to improve efficiency, minimize service delivery times, and help develop new techniques well supported by the scientific community. Members of this community were among the most important attendees in the program because of the huge gap that exists between government officials and scientific discoveries, a situation that was noted in several lectures by engineers and other professionals. The training program lasted three sessions (June 22, June 29, and July 6, 2018) giving a total of 24 contact hours. The 96 participants had the opportunity to listen to presentations, ask questions, share experiences, give different points of view, and socialize drawbacks faced within disaster events. The last session was intended to provide maximum potential for interaction among the participants, who were invited to take part in developing plans based on real life case scenarios based on actual disaster events that had happened in Colombia, including floods, landslides, and the resulting emergency needs for shelter, food, and other necessities by those affected. This gave the participants a chance to apply all the concepts, tools, and techniques acquired in the course of the training program. More information is available at The web page for the project as a whole is still being refined but is available at

In September, the research team attended the Panamerican Conference of Transportation and Logistics, which was held in Medellin. During the conference, they presented their project results and took the opportunity to discuss potential future collaborative efforts with U.S. partner Professor José Holguín-Veras, Professor Johanna Amaya of Iowa State University, and other experts in humanitarian logistics from Colombian and Latin American universities. Jointly with the local government agency for disasters, the PI and his colleagues will formulate funding proposals to national and international agencies to continue collaborative and research activities. As a result of the workshops, PI Dr. Victor Cantillo reports that several attendees expressed interest in particular topics, which are being reviewed to select those with the broadest relevance. To assess future work plans most effectively, he and his team have divided the team members, disaster agency staff members, and other experts who participated into working groups dedicated to extending the results and impacts of their research and international collaborations. Based on the level of interest and the strength of the participants, the future for collaborative ties appears promising.

To help spread the word about his team’s work, on October 1, 2018, Prof. Cantillo appeared on the radio program “Ciencia a tu Alcance,” which roughly translates as “Science at your fingertips.” The program was broadcast by his university’s radio station Uninorte FM and by the community radio station Vokaribe. The PI, Gina Galindo (an associated researcher on the PEER team), and Edinson Palma (director of the Disaster Agency) discussed problems related to humanitarian logistics in the Colombian context and the contribution of research to addressing those issues. Each participant had to chance to express his or her views about these problems from a different perspective, contrasting the academic and the governmental approaches and highlighting how collaboration between both sectors is useful for ensuring effective preparedness and opportune response to disasters. More information may be consulted in the following link.  

Dr. Cantillo is pleased to report that he and his colleagues have published four recent papers on the project in international journals, which may be accessed through the links on the journal names to follow: International Journal of Disaster Risk ReductionSocio-Economic Planning SciencesTransportation Research Part E: Logistics and Transportation Review, and Networks and Spatial Economics.  

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