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The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN/ISDR) and the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) annually present official figures of the number of natural disasters and their impacts. Statistics from recent years show that the number of disasters has been increasing significantly. These events, and their devastating consequences, have highlighted the need for an efficient and responsive humanitarian supply chain that relieves the adverse impacts of disasters. In essence, a humanitarian supply chain consists of all parties involved, directly or indirectly, in preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery activities related with disasters.

One way to deal with the response time is by improving preparedness. Preparedness involves the activities intended to help communities respond for any possible disaster. One of these activities requires the adequate location of distribution centers and facilities that will enhance the response time and ensure coverage of the affected region. The optimal location of these sites is expected to significantly improve the distribution of critical goods and save human lives. To this end, we focus on identifying a strategic set of locations for a pre-specified number of facilities. These facilities could be used as distribution centers for critical supplies (food, water, medicine, among others) in an area, with enough capacity to assure coverage and minimize response time in case of a disaster.

The objective of this research is to develop a systematic methodology to locate shelters considering both transportation and social factors in the aftermath of disasters. When anticipated demands for hurricane evacuation shelter spaces exceed existing capacity as defined by the preceding standards, there is a need to utilize less preferred facilities. It is critical that shelter selection decisions be made carefully considering both accessibility and facility conditions, and in consultation with local emergency management and public safety officials. While Red Cross and other relief agencies propose strategies to locate shelters, they currently do not consider how evacuees choose facilities based on accessibility to shelters and the in-facility congestion. This was evident in recent disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and Rita where some of the smaller shelters turned out to be inaccessible or unsafe for evacuees to use.

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