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A new approach to hazmat trucking

Engineer uses NSF grant to develop a simulator that bases shipping routes on worst-case scenario risk, not shortest path

Release Date: October 21, 2014

Changhyun Kwon
Photo: Douglas Lavere

“Most hazmat carriers do not consider risk; they find the shortest path and use it, regardless of the risk level around that route. That is not enough.”
Changhyun Kwon, assistant professor, industrial and systems engineering
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Safety often takes a back seat to speed when transporting hazardous materials (hazmat) such as radioactive materials, gasoline or medical waste from hospitals.

But a hazmat routing simulator that University at Buffalo researcher Changhyun Kwon is developing aims to place safety at the forefront of shipping dangerous chemicals.

His research, “Advancing Routing Methods in Hazardous Materials Transportation,” is supported by a new, five-year, $400,000 National Science Foundation CAREER grant. The CAREER award is among the foundation’s highest honors for young investigators.

“Current hazmat routing methods are at an elementary level,” says Kwon, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering. “Most hazmat carriers do not consider risk; they find the shortest path and use it, regardless of the risk level around that route. That is not enough.”

The possibility an accident occurs during shipment is small, but the results are often catastrophic. While some carriers use the average risk of an accident to determine their routes, Kwon’s risk-adverse simulator will base transportation routes on worst-case scenarios.

“I’m coming up with a new risk measure to capture the extreme cases of hazmat accidents,” Kwon says.

The simulator is inspired by a similar risk-adverse technique in the finance industry, whose risk management software has improved significantly, says Kwon. The new method may compromise delivery time, but trucks will become less vulnerable to large accidents.

Nearly one in five commercial trucks on the road are carrying hazmat, says Kwon. And according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, in 2013, roughly 4,800 incidents resulted in almost $79 million in damages.

Kwon will make the simulation system available to local governments and hazmat carriers, and hopes the research guides transportation policies. Instructors will also be able to use the system as a tool to train practitioners and students.

Researchers in other fields can build on Kwon’s study to address other transportation issues, such as lowering greenhouse gas emission by reducing traffic and managing supply chain logistics affected by disruptions or disasters.

Kwon joined UB in 2008 after receiving his doctorate in industrial engineering from The Pennsylvania State University. His research interests include transportation systems analysis and service operations problems.

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