Erica Gralla, Associate Professor of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering at the George Washington University

Talk title: Information Management and Service Architectures in Humanitarian Response


As increasingly frequent and complex disasters challenge humanitarian response capabilities, it is essential to consider appropriate structures and strategies for improving our ability to respond. This talk will present two projects on international humanitarian response. The first project evaluates strategies for information management in international response organizations. A simple agent-based model represents the key dynamics of information-gathering and -sharing, in order to examine how strategies such as meetings or siloed teams influence the total time needed to acquire adequate information. Results show the importance of appropriately frequent meetings over other strategies, and support recommendations for humanitarian organizations to improve their internal information management approaches. The second project examines the flexibility of the service architecture of international humanitarian organizations. These organizations have adapted to meet the needs of a very wide range of humanitarian emergencies, but recent novel emergencies such as the 2014 West Africa Ebola outbreak have challenged and perhaps “broken” their traditional response structures. A qualitative analysis of how response plans evolved over time, along with interviews with responders, reveal how a novel need for widespread and complex changes in affected population behavior – such as burial practices or mask-wearing – has challenged the adaptability of the traditional service architecture. The results point to a trade-off between architectures that support operational efficiency and those that enable a deeper relationship with the affected population.


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About Erica Gralla:

Dr. Erica Gralla is an Associate Professor of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering at George Washington University. She completed her Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the Engineering Systems Division and her B.S.E. at Princeton University in Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering. Dr. Gralla studies decision-making in real-world contexts, to develop knowledge and tools for better decisions in the design and operation of complex systems. She draws on methods from systems engineering and supply chain and operations management to study disaster response operations and international development, with partners including USAID, FEMA, and others.