Operations Research and Homeland Security

by Amanda G. Smith

On Thursday, I will be presenting the paper “A Survey of Operations Research Models and Applications in Homeland Security” by Wright, Liberatore, and Nydick. [1] Although I’ll be covering more of the details of the paper in my presentation, I wanted to start the week off by giving a little preview of what I’ll be talking about.

Before I get to the meat of the paper, I’d like to talk a little bit about homeland security. The concept of “homeland security” has been defined in many ways by many different people since its “official” inception in 2001. One definition that highlights the potential for – and reality of – homeland security’s strong ties to operations research is in the National Strategy for Homeland Security. [2] There, homeland security is described as “A concerted national effort to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, reduce America’s vulnerability to terrorism, and minimize the damage and recover from attacks that do occur” (emphasis mine). I’d like to draw your attention to the words “reduce” and “minimize,” especially. The themes of reduction and minimization are, of course, central to operations research.

This definition is slightly different from the specific role of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which takes care to differentiate itself from the Department of Defense (DoD) in that the DHS focuses on civilian efforts rather than militaristic ones. Within the civilian realm, the DHS strives to prepare for, prevent, and respond to domestic emergencies, particularly terrorism. [3]

In my presentation, I’ll highlight specific key areas of past research and how they contribute to the problem of homeland security. For now, however, I’ll point out several opportunities for future research. (Spoiler alert: this is the conclusion of my talk, so if you’re trying to stay spoiler-free, stop reading now!) Since homeland security is such a broad and far-reaching field, it is a fertile ground for interesting problems. Some of the biggest open problems in operations research for homeland security include:

  • Focusing more on non-routine emergencies [4]
  • Extending truck routing models to include homeland security concerns, especially when routing hazardous materials
  • Re-examining airline security now that policy and security protocol changes have made many older models obsolete
  • Further collaboration between physical scientists and operations researchers in various areas [5]
  • Further research in cyber security, critical infrastructure protection, threat analysis, and border security
  • Expanding disaster relief research to include the planning, preparation, recovery and response phases of disasters (most papers focus mainly on the planning phase)
  • Modeling interconnections between relief entities
  • Developing a greater understanding of the relationships between different infrastructures, which have so far been assumed to be independent

Though this is only a small snapshot of the extensive operations research work done in homeland security, I hope it gives you a taste of the types of problems operations researchers are trying to solve. One major difficulty of this type of research is that much of it plays along the edge of classified information and thus must be dealt with carefully. However, the questions are no less important. Keeping our country safe is a challenging task, but that makes finding innovative solutions all that much more important and rewarding.

[1] Wright, P. Daniel, Matthew J. Liberatore, and Robert L. Nydick. “A survey of operations research models and applications in homeland security.”Interfaces 36.6 (2006): 514-529.
[2] Defining Homeland Security: Analysis and Congressional Considerations, 08 January 2013, pp.8,.Web. 16 Feb 2016.
[3] Wikipedia contributors. “Homeland security.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 25 Oct. 2015. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.
[4] Green, Linda V., and Peter J. Kolesar. “Anniversary article: Improving emergency responsiveness with management science.” Management Science 50.8 (2004): 1001-1014.
[5] Craft, David L., Lawrence M. Wein, and Alexander H. Wilkins. “Analyzing bioterror response logistics: the case of anthrax.” Management Science 51.5 (2005): 679-694.