A risk-averse distributionally robust optimisation approach for drone-supported relief facility location problem

Zhongyi Jin, Kam K.H. Ng, Chenliang Zhang, Wei Liu, Fangni Zhang, Gangyan Xu

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


Drone-supported last-mile humanitarian logistics applications play a crucial role in the rapid and efficient delivery of essential relief items, such as medicine, blood, and vaccines, during disaster and emergency situations. This paper explores a novel drone-supported relief facility location problem (DSRFLP) aimed at establishing an effective drone-supported last-mile humanitarian logistics system. The problem involves making joint decisions for both pre-disaster and post-disaster phases while considering the characteristics of drone-based delivery operations and uncertain demands. In the pre-disaster phase, we make the decisions regarding the locations of drone-supported relief facilities, inventory prepositioning of relief items, assignment of drones to the opened facilities, and allocation of drones to disaster demand sites. In the post-disaster phase, we make decisions related to delivery quantities. To tackle the challenge of incomplete demand distribution information in chaotic disaster environments, we establish a distributionally robust optimisation (DRO) model to handle the uncertainty of demands. This model adopts worst-case mean Conditional Value-at-Risk as the risk measurement, reflecting the risk-averse attitude of humanitarian organisers. In this paper, three ambiguity sets (box, ellipsoidal, and polyhedral) are considered to describe the ambiguity distributions of demands. To overcome the computational challenge, we reformulate the DRO model under three ambiguity sets into two mixed-integer linear programming models and one second-order cone programming model, which can be efficiently solved by off-the-shelf solvers. Furthermore, we validate our proposed DRO model through a small-scale example and a large-scale case study based on the Lushan earthquake in China. The computational outcomes underscore the superior performance of the proposed DRO model to mitigate the impact arising from incomplete probability distributions. We propose managerial implications and insights to support the decision-making of humanitarian organisations based on the experimental results. Finally, we propose two extended models to incorporate multiple relief items and equity constraints in priority settings and conduct numerical experiments to adapt to various real-world disaster scenarios.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103538
JournalTransportation Research Part E: Logistics and Transportation Review
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2024


  • Ambiguity set
  • Distributionally robust optimisation (DRO)
  • Drone-supported last-mile humanitarian logistics
  • Drone-supported relief facility location problem (DSRFLP)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Transportation


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