Research Areas
Health & Humanitarian Logistics

The Center of Engineering and Health's Humanitarian Logistics research takes modeling and solution approaches to coordinate people, organizations, and materials to deliver goods and services to people in need. Learn more about projects in this area via the links below.

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Seyed Iravani Lab

Focusing on improving operations in manufacturing and service operations processes and supply chains.

Research Description

Seyed MR Iravani, PhD, focuses on improving operations in manufacturing and service operations processes and supply chains. Every process includes flow units (e.g., parts in a factory, patients in a hospital, trucks delivering goods to warehouses) that flow through the process (e.g., move within the factory, hospital, warehouse) and are processed by resources (workers in a factory, doctors and nurses in a hospital, drivers and workers in a warehouse). The final outcomes are goods and services provided by the process. By using process flow analysis and stochastic operations research methodologies, Professor Iravani’s goal is to develop long-term (strategic) and short-term (tactical) approaches to improve performance of non-profit and for-profit operations. Process improvement includes reducing cost of operations, improving quality of outcome (goods or services), improving efficiency, and improving flexibility to respond to unexpected changes in environment.

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Karen Smilowitz Lab

Studying modeling and solution approaches for logistics and transportation systems.

Research Description

Karen Smilowitz, PhD, studies modeling and solution approaches for logistics and transportation systems. She has developed innovative modeling and solution techniques for these complex systems in both commercial and non-profit applications, working with transportation providers, logistics specialists, and a range of non-profit organizations. She is currently leading the Northwestern Initiative on Humanitarian and Non-Profit Logistics with fellow IEMS faculty member Irina Dolinskaya. Dr. Smilowitz received a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation and a Sloan Industry Studies Fellowship. Her work has also been recognized by the National Academy of Engineering: in 2004 she was an invited participant in their Frontiers of Engineering Workshop and in 2008 she participated in NAE’s Engineering, Social Justice, and Sustainable Community Development Conference. She received her PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley and her BSE in Civil Engineering and Operations Research from Princeton University.

Dr. Smilowitz has worked on several projects in the area of operational improvement in community-based healthcare. Community-based operations research is the application of decision models to social issues of a local nature. The goal of this field is to design policies and tactics that have the potential to improve individual life outcomes and neighborhood-level outcomes by addressing welfare, equity and administrative efficiency simultaneously. As an example, Dr. Smilowitz is part of an integrated team of faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates working with the Mobile C.A.R.E. Foundation to improve the operations of its mobile asthma clinics. Two treatment-outfitted vans visit Chicago public schools to screen and treat patients. This project involves modeling disease progression and capacity allocation among patients to maximize benefit within the foundation's resource constraints. Dr. Smilowitz is also partnering with the Erie Family Health Centers of Chicago to analyze their operations.

We now describe some relevant recent studies by the members of our team in collaboration with different disciplines across engineering and medicine. These projects are in different engineering discipline areas (Industrial, Health Systems, Human Factors, Computer Science and Engineering and Informatics), and have incorporated multiple elements of deliverable topics (Discrete event simulation, stochastic modeling, financial engineering, human centered design, measurement systems, process and value stream mapping, etc.).

Sample Projects

Marathon: Using Operations Research to Advance Public Safety, Security, and Participant Experience at Mass Events

Karen Smilowitz, Sanjay Mehrotra, Jennifer Chan, George Chiampas, Mike Nishi

This project brings together engineering and medical faculty at Northwestern University and the organizers of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon to the use of Operations Research to advance public safety, security, and participant experience at mass events, with a particular focus on course design for marathons. Course design decisions are related to the marathon route to be followed and the locations of aid stations, medical tents and volunteers on the course. Multi-objective models and solution approaches will be developed for course design, coupled with data analytics and field observations to identify a safe and medically accessible course while simultaneously enhancing runner and community experience. The research plan is based on active integration across the areas of modeling, algorithms, data analysis and decision maker engagement. This project provides a test bed to advance the science and practice of mass event planning and preparedness, through repeated field observations at the Chicago Marathon, conducted by faculty, students, and practitioners. This collaboration represents a unique application of operations research that will expose students to a new breed of planning problems.

Last Mile Health: Operations Research for Community Health in Remote Liberia

Northwestern researchers have developed tools to assist with the design of a community health care network in order to increase health coverage for remote regions of Liberia, partnering with Last Mile Health, a non-governmental organization that brings health care to remote communities in Liberia. In order to service remote communities, LMH trains community healthcare workers to prevent, diagnose, and treat the most common diseases in Liberia. This collaboration aims to improve the distribution of healthcare workers in complex environments. We examine geographic, economic, and cultural aspects of Liberian communities to develop practical maps and models. For example, we have evaluated how distance and terrain impact the regularity of CHW supervision. We have created detailed maps--seeing that the road networks in Liberia’s remote areas are typically unmapped or poorly — mapped as well as models that explore how to best distribute personnel given such physical challenges.

View Professor Smilowitz's faculty profile