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UMD-Smith Experts Comment on Ebola Social Media, Supply Chain Implications

Oct 23, 2014
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Officials are applying social media, such as the CDC Emergency Twitter handle, to disseminate Ebola-related information and using wireless networks to track and predict outbreak patterns and locate individuals exposed to the virus. Companies concurrently are monitoring for threats to their supply chains, such as the Ivory Coast cocoa supply.

Experts, below, in the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business are available to discuss social media and business supply chains in the context of the Ebola outbreak.

Africa’s ‘Contact Tracing’ Model and Public Confidence

Kislaya Prasad (301-405-6359, kprasad@rhsmith.umd.edu), research professor for the Department of Logistics, Business and Public Policy, can address social media as a means to tracking and controlling the Ebola outbreak. An expert on health economics, Prasad is also affiliated as an external scientist with the Center for Advanced Modeling at John’s Hopkins Medicine. He says:

“The media has focused on missteps of health authorities, and this has played into the understandable fears of the population. However, if you examine closely, the authorities responsible for public health at the CDC and NIH have carefully followed a script that has proven to work in previous outbreaks in Africa. This formula involves early detection and contact tracing, which means using social media and wireless communications to track and find individuals exposed to the virus. Contact tracing was a key to Nigeria recently being declared as Ebola-free.

“The strategy requires a very high degree of trust in public health authorities, especially when it comes to contact tracing. It is in this context that I am worried by the political discourse surrounding the disease. While it is understandable to insist on perfection in the crisis response, it would be counterproductive to do this in a way that undermines trust, and thereby undermines our ability to combat the disease. Also, supporting the afflicted West African nations is critical. If the disease is not contained there, and becomes a global pandemic, then we will have a much bigger crisis on our hands -- even here in the U.S.”

Social Media Monitoring

Bill Rand (301- 405-7229wrand@rhsmith.umd.edu), an assistant professor of marketing and computer science, can expand on social media as an Ebola-information dissemination platform. He directs Smith’s Center for Complexity in Business. He says social media chatter can give Ebola-tracking clues:

“Health authorities have begun to prototype the use of health monitoring via social media. For example, scientists are assessing the severity and extent of the Ebola outbreak on the basis of messages spreading on social media platforms such as Twitter. 

“Officials also are using these tools to spread accurate health information to public by describing necessary precautions to take and the real threats to focus on. However, verifying the accuracy of social media information, both for the public and for health authorities monitoring public information, is vital to making these tools work. Tools for automatically validating and verifying information are significant to open research projects at Smith’s Center for Complexity in Business.”

Supply Chain Disruption

Sandor Boyson (301-405-2205sboyson@rhsmith.umd.edu), research professor and co-director of Smith's Supply Chain Management Center, can explain how Ebola-disrupted supply chains could cause, for example, rising chocolate-product prices in time for the holidays – due to the threat to Ivory Coast cocoa production.

Boyson  has consulted for the likes of the Department of Defense and World Bank for 20-plus years on supply chain strategy, information technology and risk management. He has co-developed graduate-level curriculum that integrates Resilinc-provided software enabling students to track and solve supply chain disruptions around the globe in real time. He is a recent appointee to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce's Advisory Committee on Supply Chain Competitiveness and co-author of “X-SCM: The New Science of X-Treme Supply Chain Management.”

About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty master's, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

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