A Simulation-optimization Framework for Post-disaster Allocation of Mental Health Resources

Stephen M. Cunningham
Steven J. Schuldt, Air Force Institute of Technology
Christopher M. Chini, Air Force Institute of Technology
Justin D. Delorit, Air Force Institute of Technology

©2021 The Authors

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A supplement related to this article is available online at: https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-21-3843-2021-supplement [zip file]


Extreme events, such as natural or human-caused disasters, cause mental health stress in affected communities. While the severity of these outcomes varies based on socioeconomic standing, age group, and degree of exposure, disaster planners can mitigate potential stress-induced mental health outcomes by assessing the capacity and scalability of early, intermediate, and long-term treatment interventions by social workers and psychologists. However, local and state authorities are typically underfunded, understaffed, and have ongoing health and social service obligations that constrain mitigation and response activities. In this research, a resource assignment framework is developed as a coupled-state transition and linear optimization model that assists planners in optimally allocating constrained resources and satisfying mental health recovery priorities post-disaster. The resource assignment framework integrates the impact of a simulated disaster on mental health, mental health provider capacities, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) to identify vulnerable populations needing additional assistance post-disaster. In this study, we optimally distribute mental health clinicians to treat the affected population based upon rule sets that simulate decision-maker priorities, such as economic and social vulnerability criteria. Finally, the resource assignment framework maps the mental health recovery of the disaster-affected populations over time, providing agencies a means to prepare for and respond to future disasters given existing resource constraints. These capabilities hold the potential to support decision-makers in minimizing long-term mental health impacts of disasters on communities through improved preparation and response activities. © 2021 Stephen Cunningham et al.