This Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grant provides support for the collection of data related to debris management and its modeling. Debris is the waste generated by hazardous events such as a natural disaster or a terrorist attack. This is a critical and often overlooked problem. Debris impacts the logistics of humanitarian relief and can generate debris in some large-scale disasters equivalent in volume to years of normal solid waste production in the affected areas. In the context of the Haiti earthquake, blockage of the roads by debris was one of the key factors in the humanitarian organizations inability to deliver aid to the victims in the immediate aftermath, even after aid had arrived at the Port-au-Prince airport and ports. Almost two months after the earthquake, many sources cite debris removal and disposal as one of the biggest challenges going forward and estimate that these activities will take more than five years to complete. Debris removal is a costly and long, complicated process requiring the careful consideration of both short and long term effects.

If successful, this research will provide an integrated model that considers interactions between the decision problems in all three phases of debris management operations (clearance, collection, and disposal). These models and decision aid tools will be greatly enhanced through testing and tuning using scenarios based on the collected real data. Existing literature on debris removal is very limited and this work will open new venues both in the modeling and solution of this problem as well as create publicly available data sets for testing. Through data collection, analysis, and documentation of operations a case study describing the effects of debris and its removal on the delivery of humanitarian aid and access to critical facilities in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake will be created. It is envisioned that the developed tools will be used not only in tactical and operational phases but also during the comprehensive policy evaluation phase.

Project Report

Debris removal is a costly, long and complicated process requiring the careful consideration of both short term and long term effects on people's health and safety, and the environment. Operations occur over many stages, from the initial clearance of roadways, to coordinating many teams in collecting debris, to the final disposal decisions of the debris. In the short term, the main consideration is the clearance of debris to allow for the transportation of relief resources and access to disaster areas or critical facilities for lifesaving activities. In the long term debris must be collected, sorted, and properly disposed of in as quickly a time as possible. Given that the debris may contain toxic or hazardous waste, not performing the long term goals quickly poses serious health effects on surrounding communities, but even with non-toxic debris, being left uncollected causes a detriment to rebuilding and recovery of the disaster area. One needs to weigh the benefits of rapid debris clearing with the long term impact to ensure that its management would not pose a future threat to human health or the environment. We develop computer tools to aid in the analysis of debris operations and decision making during debris operations. These tools can help stakeholders make more informed decisions, quicker, allowing debris operations to be more effective. On January 12, 2010, a magnitude 7 earthquake occurred within 15 miles of Port au Prince, Haiti. The resulting damage was severe as many neighborhoods were almost completely destroyed, the Haitian government lost almost all of its ministries, and many hospitals and other infrastructure facilities were destroyed. Numerous aftershocks of magnitude 4 or 5 have only increased the damage. Estimates range that the number of dead is between 100,000 and 230,000, with as many as 1,000,000 made homeless from an estimated 250,000 destroyed residences. The debris created from the earthquake is estimated to be above 20-25 cubic yards, or enough to fill the Louisiana Superdome around 5 times. We travelled to Port-au-Prince to interview decision makers in debris management to better understand how initial operations occurred and how operations were currently managed. The response of the first few days faced difficulties beyond the capabilities of limited resources. Initial efforts for debris were not well coordinated among the greater response community. This is not unexpected due to the functional collapse of the Haitian government and lack of clearly defined roles. Since then various entities have fallen into various, largely uncoordinated, roles related to debris. We found operations already in the phase of collecting of debris, a phase which could take decades at current rates. A more detailed summary of what we found was published in "Haiti's Eternal Weight," an op-ed in New York Times on July 7, 2010. Since then various attempts have been made to bring these operations into a centrally managed operation. We took a tool we were developing for US disasters and tailored it, based on information collected regarding Port-au-Prince, to the Haiti situation and proposed plans for coordinating debris operations. We focused on analyzing the importance of particular factors within plans as a way to stress what is important for a plan to consider. We demonstrated that ignoring the road network of Port-au-Prince, a city bordered by ocean and mountains, could cause a 19 percent underestimate in how long operations could take. We also demonstrated that the planning of which debris dumping sites and the schedule, with which they are open, can cause an increase of up to 24 percent in time operations will take. This stresses the importance of not only planning where and when debris is collected but also planning in closely in conjunction with the sites the debris must be taken to. The majority of debris in Port-au-Prince is rubble from buildings and other structures. Many Haitians are rebuilding their houses with the debris created by their original house by hand mixing a mortar. Members of the aid community have expressed a varying degree of opinions on the topic, from encouraging larger scale production of brick from reuse of debris to expressing that rebuilding with what collapsed once will lead to structural failure in the future. While in Port-au-Prince we collected many samples of mixes used by those rebuilding in order to test the quality of the mixes and determine when and how it can be properly reused. Using these collected samples we showed how proper reuse of the rubble could effectively create aggregate on par in strength with North American standards.

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Georgia Tech Research Corporation
United States
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