Dynamic Resource Allocation in Disaster Response: Tradeoffs in Wildfire Suppression
Challenges associated with the allocation of limited resources to mitigate the impact of natural disasters inspire fundamentally new theoretical questions for dynamic decision making in coupled human and natural systems. Wildfires are one of several types of disaster phenomena, including oil spills and disease epidemics, where (1) the disaster evolves on the same timescale as the response effort, and (2) delays in response can lead to increased disaster severity and thus greater demand for resources. We introduce a minimal stochastic process to represent wildfire progression that nonetheless accurately captures the heavy tailed statistical distribution of fire sizes observed in nature. We then couple this model for fire spread to a series of response models that isolate fundamental tradeoffs both in the strength and timing of response and also in division of limited resources across multiple competing suppression efforts. Using this framework, we compute optimal strategies for decision making scenarios that arise in fire response policy.