Emergent e-Logistics Infrastructure for Timely Emergency Response Management

 by Collaborative Problem-Solving with Optimal Resource (Re)Allocation



Director, Emergent Information Systems Laboratory

Electrical and Computer Engineering Department

The University of Calgary



Tel. +1-403-2208616; Fax. +1-403-2826855



Logistics management (according to the US Federal Emergency Management Agency – FEMA, the leading US organization researching and developing standards for emergency logistics) is the process of planning, preparing, implementing and evaluating all logistics functions that support an operation or activity. Effective logistics management ensures that all functions are executed in a unified manner in order to reduce costs, ensure appropriate support actions, and decrease delivery time. Individual logistics functions (and subfunctions) that have to be harmoniously and effectively coordinated are: material management (inventory, requisitioning, resource tracking, issue and distribution, etc.); facility management (information systems, communications, fleet management, safety and health, etc.); transportation management (ordering, sourcing and acquisition, movement coordination and tacking, etc.) Integration of all these functions into an effective mobile emergency response support strategy/mechanism requires high flexibility and adaptability of the organizational structures involved, which can be achieved via an appropriate information infrastructure.

The virtual organization (VO) paradigm has recently emerged from the need for mechanisms supporting the creation and seamless deployment of collaborative organizational structures capable of quick response to unexpected situations (changes in market demand, fault tracking and recovery, on-demand product design and manufacturing, etc.). A VO is a temporary alliance of enterprises/organizations that cooperatively work together to share skills or core competencies and resources to achieve it mission/goal and whose cooperation relies on computer networks and a cooperative, yet distributed information systems structure. The key to operation of such organizational coalitions is a solid information backbone infrastructure supporting integration of several dispersed and heterogeneous organizations (and their resources) into a unified ecosystem.

This research builds on latest advances in the development of infrastructures for VOs to develop collaborative information ecosystems endowed with the characteristic of emergence. We argue that such dynamic information infrastructures fulfill the requirements for effective emergency logistics handling by ensuring ubiquitous, ad-hoc (optimal) resource discovery and allocation. We start from the observation that the phenomenon of emergence involves:

n      Self-organization of the dynamical systems such that the synergetic effects can occur

n      Interaction with other systems from which the synergetic properties can evolve

Our approach is based on the holonic paradigm - developed by A. Koestler in his attempt to create a model for self-organization in biological systems and proven by the International Holonic Manufacturing Systems (HMS) Consortium to be very successful to resource management and allocation in the manufacturing domain. Virtual organizations enabled with the proposed emergence mechanism can evolve like a social organism in Cyberspace by mating its components with new partners as they are discovered in a continuous incremental improvement search process, while at the same time self-organizing their resources to optimally accomplish the desired objectives.







Figure 1: A scenario in emergency logistics     Figure 2: Holonic Enterprise


Methods and Proposed Approach


The proposed approach builds on latest advances in wireless and communication infrastructures, emergent virtual organizations, and reconfigurable manufacturing production to develop state-of-the-art dynamic electronic infrastructures (supporting vertical and horizontal enterprise integration) for emergency response management and defense logistics. It enables emergence of virtual holarchies (Fig. 1) optimally clustering and managing distributed resources to address emergency logistics needs in disaster relief, medical and military applications – at the same time providing a suitable mechanism for logistics management in e-manufacturing and e-business applications.

To model the multidimensional aspects of workflow management we rely on patterns of self-replicating structures dissecting an organization in three nested hierarchies, named holarchies. The elements of the holarchy (holons) behave as autonomous wholes and yet as cooperative parts for achieving the goal of the holarchy. The holarchy exhibits a three-tier architecture, Fig. 2, which will be realized by a “layered” multi-agent systems architecture encompassing the three levels (inter-organization, intra-organization and physical resource). On each level, entities may be dynamically, ‘on-the-fly’ replaced by others in order for the overall unit to be more (cost) efficient. This results in a continuous re-configuration process of the virtual organization.