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Game Theory in Hurricane Relief


Between Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, coastal regions of North America have been hit very hard recently. Affected regions suffer hundreds of billions of dollars in damage and large areas are completely demolished and without power. Dealing with rescue and repair is not always easy, especially if the involved non-governmental organizations lack proper coordination. It is not rare at all for NGOs to compete with one another for funding. Though this is not necessarily out of selfishness as having proper financial stability is integral to being able to properly provide aid, it does prove troublesome when fast, quality, relief is needed. The article I read discusses how a game theory model can be applied to NGO actions in such hurricane relief situations.

As mentioned in the article, two different scenarios were used to create game theory models. In one model, the NGO action was not being regulated by a higher power therefore allowing the NGOs to provide relief as they wish. In the other, NGOs had to provide certain supply quantities to areas in need as mandated by higher powers. For each scenario, a case study of Hurricane Katrina was used as a basis. Total cost including distribution, supplying, donations received, and gain from delivery was used for comparison in the model. To do so, a complex function was created that they deemed the “utility function”.

What the authors found was that the Generalized Nash solution in which the NGOs  used a cooperative strategy, under some circumstances, is capable of drawing in more donations than the competitive strategy in which NGOs are unrestricted. The article also suggests that the second scenario, which involves authorities regulating the NGO behavior, could be a more effective relief method than the first scenario if done on both lower and upper demand levels of aid.

I found this article interesting because of its relevance to the recent material and the real world. Its fascinating to see simple game theory concepts applied to such a complex situation. The article used concepts such as game strategies and Nash Equilibriums in attempt to find a solution to this greater problem. Though I think the article is likely biased in the way it presents its information, I do not doubt that if these organizations could be less competitive, better relief could be provided. However, it is difficult to say if the limited financial support should be delegated to regulation of NGOs or directly to the NGOs which may compete with one another. I think that there is a lot of room to expand on their study and I would be interested to see if they could use game theory in an even broader sense.


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