Theses Doctoral

Models for managing surge capacity in the face of an influenza epidemic

Zenteno, Ana

Influenza pandemics pose an imminent risk to society. Yearly outbreaks already represent heavy social and economic burdens. A pandemic could severely affect infrastructure and commerce through high absenteeism, supply chain disruptions, and other effects over an extended and uncertain period of time. Governmental institutions such as the Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have issued guidelines on how to prepare for a potential pandemic, however much work still needs to be done in order to meet them. From a planner's perspective, the complexity of outlining plans to manage future resources during an epidemic stems from the uncertainty of how severe the epidemic will be. Uncertainty in parameters such as the contagion rate (how fast the disease spreads) makes the course and severity of the epidemic unforeseeable, exposing any planning strategy to a potentially wasteful allocation of resources. Our approach involves the use of additional resources in response to a robust model of the evolution of the epidemic as to hedge against the uncertainty in its evolution and intensity. Under existing plans, large cities would make use of networks of volunteers, students, and recent retirees, or borrow staff from neighboring communities. Taking into account that such additional resources are likely to be significantly constrained (e.g. in quantity and duration), we seek to produce robust emergency staff commitment levels that work well under different trajectories and degrees of severity of the pandemic. Our methodology combines Robust Optimization techniques with Epidemiology (SEIR models) and system performance modeling. We describe cutting-plane algorithms analogous to generalized Benders' decomposition that prove fast and numerically accurate. Our results yield insights on the structure of optimal robust strategies and on practical rules-of-thumb that can be deployed during the epidemic. To assess the efficacy of our solutions, we study their performance under different scenarios and compare them against other seemingly good strategies through numerical experiments. This work would be particularly valuable for institutions that provide public services, whose operations continuity is critical for a community, especially in view of an event of this caliber. As far as we know, this is the first time this problem is addressed in a rigorous way; particularly we are not aware of any other robust optimization applications in epidemiology.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Industrial Engineering and Operations Research
Thesis Advisors
Bienstock, Daniel
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
March 1, 2013