NSF Funds Interdisciplinary Project to Improve Emergency Response in the Arctic

Thomas Sharkey, Associate Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE), will lead an NSF-funded effort to integrate Operations Research (OR), public policy, and social science methods to plan investments into infrastructure in the Arctic in a way that simultaneously improves emergency response capabilities, such as search and rescue and oil spill response, and benefits the local Arctic communities where the infrastructure is built and maintained.

The motivation for this research is the fact that in recent years, the Arctic has begun experiencing significantly longer ice-free, navigable maritime seasons, thereby changing the types of activities taking place in Arctic waters.  Cruise ships have travelled through the Northwest Passage, oil exploration has occurred off the North Slope of Alaska, and the Northern Sea Route is going to see an increasing volume of cargo ships travelling through it.  In Arctic Alaska, these tourism and industrial activities will occur far away from the infrastructure and resources of urban and industrial centers, such as Anchorage, Fairbanks, and the Aleutian Islands, limiting response capabilities to an emergency occurring in Arctic waters.  Therefore, there is a critical need to improve Emergency Response in the Arctic (ERA) to meet the likely increase in the demand for these capabilities.   The scientific contribution of this research is to create prescriptive decision-making models that help to determine where, when, and how to make infrastructure investments for improving global ERA capabilities while also providing benefits to Arctic communities. Because the infrastructure required to improve ERA will be built and maintained in local Arctic communities, this project will involve Arctic stakeholders, including representatives from indigenous communities, to guide the research and help disseminate its results.  The proposed research will create new OR models that not only account for where and when to make infrastructure investments to improve ERA capabilities but how to properly integrate these investments into the communities where they are located.  To accomplish this, we propose an innovative methodology where social science research done in conjunction with local Arctic communities will be conducted in a way that informs the creation of the OR models and, in later stages of the work, validates their results.

In addition to Professor Sharkey, the grant team includes Martha Grabowski, senior research scientist in ISE at RPI,  Al Wallace, Yamada Corporation Professor in ISE at RPI, Marie Lowe, an Associate Professor of Anthropology and Public Policy at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and Thomas Birkland, a Professor of Public Policy at North Carolina State University (NCSU).  The NSF will invest over $1 million into this collaborative research grant across RPI, University of Alaska Anchorage, and NCSU.  The project is aligned with the NSF’s Big Idea of “Navigating the New Arctic.”    

The RPI team has extensive experience in prescriptive analytics for infrastructure and supply chain resilience and in emergency response in the Arctic.  Professor Sharkey received the NSF CAREER award for a project to study supply chain restoration, construction, and redesign.  Professor Grabowski recently led a National Academies study on oil spill response in the Arctic.  Professors Grabowski and Wallace conducted research on the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.  

More details about the award can be found at: https://nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1825712&HistoricalAwards=false