Cameron MacKenzie: Planning for large-scale disruptions

IMSE assistant professor applies operations research to risk and decision analysis

Cameron MacKenzieTwelve years ago, Cameron MacKenzie didn’t know much about the industrial engineering field. He was in Washington, D.C., working as a consultant in the areas of defense and homeland security for former Defense Secretary William Cohen.

At the time, MacKenzie, who is now an assistant professor for Iowa State’s Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems, says the government was establishing the Department of Homeland Security and asking questions about how to make the best-informed decisions given the varying levels of threats to the country.

“I thought this question of thinking about all the different risks to the nation and the best ways to protect against them was fascinating,” he says. “That’s when I started learning more about the field of decision and risk analysis, where you use mathematical models to answer complex questions. As I started studying this area, I realized we can use good methods to make decisions, whether we are encountering organizational, government or personal decisions. Figuring out the right methods and helping people to follow them makes this field valuable.”

MacKenzie’s work uses operations research models to study applied problems in risk and decision analysis with a particular emphasis on large-scale disruptions. He has implemented these models to study the economic impacts of Hurricane Sandy, the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. He also develops resource allocation models to prepare for these types of disruptions and help economic regions recover from them.

His models bring together simulation, optimization, dynamic programming and multi-attribute value theory to provide decision-makers with solutions.

“We’re building these plans so organizations can remain resilient in a variety of situations,” MacKenzie adds. “This work really gets to the heart of what industrial engineering is about – working on practical problems to improve businesses, government, communities and healthcare systems.”

MacKenzie will be teaching courses on engineering risk analysis and engineering economy. He hopes to demonstrate to students the value of having processes and step-by-step ways of making decisions so they can use that approach in their professional and personal life.

“I’m excited about interacting more with students on a regular basis, helping them learn and providing advice for their future career plans,” MacKenzie says. “I am also looking forward to the opportunities to do research with students and mentor them in that capacity.”

MacKenzie’s educational background crosses several disciplines with each degree guiding him to his latest role in academia. Starting in 2001, he earned a B.S. in mathematics with a computer science option and a B.A. in history and French from Indiana-Purdue University at Fort Wayne. He then earned an M.A. in international affairs from The George Washington University (2003) and an M.S. in management science and engineering from Stanford University (2009). In 2012, MacKenzie completed his Ph.D. in industrial engineering from the University of Oklahoma.

Before coming to Iowa State, he was an assistant professor in the Defense Resources Management Institute at the Naval Postgraduate School. In this position, he taught analysis, decision-making, and risk management to military officers and defense civilians in the United States and allied nations.