A new web-based dashboard designed to predict COVID-19 threats to supply chains, share data and foster analysis is now available from Texas A&M University’s Cross-Border Threat Screening and Supply Chain Defense, CBTS, Department of Homeland Security, DHS, Center of Excellence.

Two fists, one each draped with the Mexico and U.S. flags
Mexico and the U.S. are working together to monitor potential impacts on supply chains across their border due to COVID-19.

CBTS COVID-19 Binational Dashboard, a project sponsored by the DHS Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction office, is following a new approach, said Matt Cochran, Ph.D., CBTS research director. A group of experts from industry, academia and government from the U.S. and Mexico are creating an open and collaborative platform to improve decision-making by generating research on potential impacts – social, economic and environmental – on supply chains due to COVID-19.

“COVID-19 is a highly sensitive problem that is continuously changing,” Cochran said. “DHS called for a neutral third party to look at the situation, and they needed someone who knew something about modeling.”

Analyzing COVID-19’s impact

Zenon Medina-Cetina, Ph.D., associate professor in the Zachary Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering within the Texas A&M School of Engineering and lead researcher on the multi-disciplinary project, said there is a great concern some sectors of the supply chains could break, and this project will monitor data and provide predictive analytics.

dashboard monitors multiple modes of transportation depicted with an airplane, semi-trucks and cargo containers for rail cars.
New dashboard will monitor the supply chain across the U.S.-Mexico border.

“From electrical parts that are used to produce dishwashers to a wide variety of agricultural products, we wanted to be responsive to what is happening and be able to provide information to improve decision-making by anyone within the supply chain,” Medina-Cetina said.

“We’ve already identified more than 370 variables that are potential impacts of the supply chain. Rain, drought, hurricane, earthquakes – how can they disrupt the supply chain? We put those variables up front. What is the impact of having a power outage and we can’t issue vaccinations? Somebody will be charged for a supply chain disruption. Anybody trading with the U.S. can anticipate the threats to reroute or reconnect or whatever changes that might need to be made.”

The goal is to develop a data-lake platform concentrating near real-time analytics following a risk-systems approach that can provide strategic information about the evolution of COVID-19 and related current and emerging threats, the state of vulnerability of the health supply chain systems and the likely impacts a combination of these may cause to society, the economy and the environment.

“We want to help everyone and inform those who are active in trade with the U.S. who might want to know the state of risk,” Medina-Cetina said.

A case study within the big picture

Medina-Cetina said the dashboard supports two sponsored projects: one, a Risk Scenarios Modelling effort, which deals with the processes of trade between the U.S. and the world, and the other, a COVID-19 U.S.-Mexico Risk Taskforce project, serves as a major case study looking at trade between the U.S. and Mexico.

The Risk Scenarios Modelling effort will identify variables and processes related to all supply chains that involve U.S. export and import ground points of entry – essentially the critical components involved in supply chains that cross U.S. borders, he said.

“They came with the special request about Mexico, which is the No. 1 trade partner with the U.S.,” Medina-Cetina said. “The auto, defense and ag industries, as well as other supply chains, could be affected. That’s why they requested a special application to look at the risks with Mexico particularly, and that is our COVID-19 U.S.: Mexico Risk Taskforce project.”

With the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which is the updated North American Free Trade Agreement signed in 2020, he said there was concern that COVID could impact multiple and strategic supply chains.

“There was a need to study the potential migration of people and supplies that could be contaminated and affect the spread of the virus,” Medina-Cetina said. “On the other hand, you have everything related to support in a supply chain, from PPE to agriculture products to manufacturing and tourism.”

He said it has been an intense six months building the tool that will become the point of reference for anyone making decisions on trading.

As a part of the project, a monthly U.S.-Mexico COVID-19 Risk Bulletin will be published to provide scientific, technological and strategic cultural support to secure the operation of U.S.-Mexico supply chains. The project concentrates on five priorities – vaccination supplies, personal protection equipment or PPE supply chain on the infrastructure, and then state of the health of the workforce for the health, manufacturing and agriculture sectors.

The risk bulletin report provides an overview of the project status, general objectives and the most important initial lessons learned during the last period of covered performance. The main objectives of this project are support all health supply chain systems for both infrastructure and workforce, and to do it accounting for the inherent cultural regional differences, and considering the current and emerging regional social, economic and environmental risks.

Building on solid ground

Cochran said the vision for CBTS is based on the need for enhanced risk-based decision-making in a variety of contexts – supply chain and biological threat screening.

“We proposed the CBTS Center of Excellence before COVID,” he said. “We didn’t know the pandemic was coming, but we all have backgrounds in pandemic preparedness and risk assessment and management. We brought all that together, and more immediately once COVID surfaced. When DHS wanted more insight on COVID in a binational sense, we formed these research projects.”

DHS, in assessing the threat of a border region in Mexico, asked that CBTS partner with a Mexican national lab in charge of producing everything related to COVID-19, Cochran said. Medina-Cetina already had a great relationship with Mexican partners, allowing the task force to look at supply chains and infrastructure from a binational perspective and reflect that on the dashboard.

The U.S. statistics and information used to populate the dashboard in this initial version are from Johns Hopkins University. A second version is expected to follow within six months that will develop cross-cutting analytics on the processes that are affecting the supply chains.

Mechanics of the dashboard

In addition to a binational dashboard, viewers will have access to the Mexican and U.S. statistics on everything from confirmed cases, negative cases, pending results, active cases, deaths and recovery estimates. Additionally, graphs will let viewers see breakdowns on the demographics of the cases.

“There are differences,” Cochran said. “Right now, we are reflecting as much as possible the situation. There are myriad differences in how things are counted with respect to COVID not only between the countries, but even between states. We’ve treated this as apolitical research project.”

Medina-Cetina said the dashboard steps beyond an initial look to provide concentrated information to generate a risk-guided platform and risk-management strategies based on all the evidence collected, which he anticipates can become a model to other regions around the world.

“We have more than two dozen people, from data management to server management, who worked to  create this concept,” he said. “We are ingesting data so we can better inform the public. We are only using publicly available data to create firsthand information on threats to supply chains and environmental impacts.”

The ultimate goal is to be a point of reference for anyone trading between U.S. and Mexico.

“While our main interest is agriculture, any supply chain can work with us,” Cochran said.

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