Integrity. Innovation. Impact.

Ann Campbell

Ann Campbell

Associate Professor of Management Sciences
Martha and Dennis Hesse Research Fellow


Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering (Optimization), Georgia Institute of Technology, 2000
B.A. in Computational & Applied Mathematics/Economics, Rice University, 1993

Hearing reports of delays in emergency supplies reaching the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami victims, Ann Campbell thought there must be a better way of getting relief to victims of disasters. Since then, the associate professor of management sciences has been researching relief logistics—how to get supplies to an area before and after disaster strikes. She is one of a few people in transportation logistics to do so.

"I became interested in relief logistics because it was an area that I felt could make an impact on people's lives and which could help those in need," said Campbell.

Relief logistics differs from humanitarian logistics, an area that logisticians recently have became more interested in. Humanitarian logistics focuses on the best way for nonprofits to deal with long-term problems, such as getting vaccines to remote populations, whereas relief logistics looks at how to mitigate disasters.

The latter involves questions like: what supplies need to be stocked before and after a disaster, where would these supplies be located, and how can we take care of people faster after a disaster?

Unlike normal delivery networks, which are profit-driven, the design of a relief-logistic network is motivated by fairness—making sure everyone gets the same supplies at about the same time and at the same speed. It also considers constantly changing conditions—a breakdown in communication networks, for example, or roads that could become impassable.

"If your UPS package is really late, you maybe could complain and get your $12.95 back," said Campbell. "In relief logistics, it's not the same. For one thing, you're not paying for the service. It sort of changes the priority system a little."

This kind of research differs from most of Campbell's other logistics research, which typically looks at ways for businesses to improve delivery times and manage inventory. The parameters she considers in for-profit transportation logistics include the most efficient number of trucks, where hubs should be located, a cost-efficient delivery network that provides timely delivery for all customers, and how to get inventory out the door as quickly as possible.

Over the years, Campbell has interviewed officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross to find out what these agencies do when a disaster strikes. Tim Kidwell, senior director of Emergency Services of the American Red Cross's Greater Houston chapter, believes Campbell's work could prove useful to his organization.

"Sometimes, it's easy to get tunnel vision," said Kidwell. "We don't look at things objectively when we're too close to a situation. Ann's work might provide some insight that we might not have thought of before."

Massive disasters such as the earthquakes in China (2008) and Pakistan (2005) and Hurricane Katrina (2005) are prompting relief agencies to improve their ability to respond to a catastrophe. Campbell's research could help them aid and save more people than they have ever done before.

"It seems like many of the lessons we've learned from disasters that have happened in the last five years are of the same vein: the more plans you have in place, the better, even if things don't happen in exactly the way you think they might," Campbell says.

By Po Li Loo, for the UI Spectator (alumni publication)