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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

NATO Competition Win Leads to Startup

By Sherry DiBari

When NATO challenged innovators to design a solution for disaster management, Old Dominion University's Department of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering proposed iHELP (Intelligent Holistic Emergency Logistics Platform), winning the 2017 NATO Innovation Hub's Innovation Challenge. Now, the winning idea has been developed into a software platform.

The NATO challenge was a hypothetical scenario of disaster management during a hurricane emergency. The team proposed iHELP, an optimization and simulation approach that can be implemented as a software solution.

"What iHELP demonstrated was novel: that NATO could leverage social media and big data algorithms to assign the best relief job to the right group of personnel and volunteers in the event of a disaster," a NATO article about iHELP reported. "The core of the product is a Python-based simulation and optimization system that significantly improves efficiency of the logistics of relief and resources distribution to affected areas."

After the 2017 event, Ghaith Rabadi, professor of engineering management and systems engineering in the Batten College of Engineering and Technology - with the support of the NATO Innovation Hub - proposed taking the idea from a concept to a product that could help humanitarian organizations respond more effectively to disasters through the use of simulation and optimization.

Rabadi then founded POLARes, a tech startup to "develop simulation and optimization models and methods for complex problems and systems and integrate them into Information Technology software for data-driven decision support of our customers," the POLARes website explains.

NATO's Crisis Management and Disaster Response Center of Excellence in Sofia, Bulgaria tested iHELP during its development project using realistic disaster scenarios to test the system and validate results based on its staff experience.

The cloud-based platform components include a supply and demand module, transportation planner and service planner. Services include activities such as search-and-rescue, evacuation, food distribution and medical attention. Other features of iHELP encompass a disruption module, weather module and social media analytics module.

"This project is an example of an innovative research pro­gram that applies principles of industrial engineering and op­erations research to disaster response and crises management through open innovation platforms and entrepreneurial ac­tivity," Rabadi said. "It is our hope that not only would iHELP be sustainable, but it will also save lives," he added.

An article about iHELP was published in the May issue of ISE Magazine, a publication of the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers.

A video about iHELP, produced by the NATO Innovation Hub, can be found here.

Information on iHELP can be found here and on POLARes can be found here. Ghaith Rabadi is a professor of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering and founder of POLARes.


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