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A spatial queuing model for the location decision of emergency medical vehicles for pandemic outbreaks: the case of Za'atari refugee camp

Felix Blank (University of Wuerzburg, Wuerzburg, Germany)

Journal of Humanitarian Logistics and Supply Chain Management

ISSN: 2042-6747

Article publication date: 21 January 2021

Issue publication date: 4 May 2021




Refugee camps can be severely struck by pandemics, like potential COVID-19 outbreaks, due to high population densities and often only base-level medical infrastructure. Fast responding medical systems can help to avoid spikes in infections and death rates as they allow the prompt isolation and treatment of patients. At the same time, the normal demand for emergency medical services has to be dealt with as well. The overall goal of this study is the design of an emergency service system that is appropriate for both types of demand.


A spatial hypercube queuing model (HQM) is developed that uses queuing-theory methods to determine locations for emergency medical vehicles (also called servers). Therefore, a general optimization approach is applied, and subsequently, virus outbreaks at various locations of the study areas are simulated to analyze and evaluate the solution proposed. The derived performance metrics offer insights into the behavior of the proposed emergency service system during pandemic outbreaks. The Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan is used as a case study.


The derived locations of the emergency medical system (EMS) can handle all non-virus-related emergency demands. If additional demand due to virus outbreaks is considered, the system becomes largely congested. The HQM shows that the actual congestion is highly dependent on the overall amount of outbreaks and the corresponding case numbers per outbreak. Multiple outbreaks are much harder to handle even if their cumulative average case number is lower than for one singular outbreak. Additional servers can mitigate the described effects and lead to enhanced resilience in the case of virus outbreaks and better values in all considered performance metrics.

Research limitations/implications

Some parameters that were assumed for simplification purposes as well as the overall model should be verified in future studies with the relevant designers of EMSs in refugee camps. Moreover, from a practitioners perspective, the application of the model requires, at least some, training and knowledge in the overall field of optimization and queuing theory.

Practical implications

The model can be applied to different data sets, e.g. refugee camps or temporary shelters. The optimization model, as well as the subsequent simulation, can be used collectively or independently. It can support decision-makers in the general location decision as well as for the simulation of stress-tests, like virus outbreaks in the camp area.


The study addresses the research gap in an optimization-based design of emergency service systems for refugee camps. The queuing theory-based approach allows the calculation of precise (expected) performance metrics for both the optimization process and the subsequent analysis of the system. Applied to pandemic outbreaks, it allows for the simulation of the behavior of the system during stress-tests and adds a further tool for designing resilient emergency service systems.



The author wants to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their comments that helped to greatly improve the paper.


Blank, F. (2021), "A spatial queuing model for the location decision of emergency medical vehicles for pandemic outbreaks: the case of Za'atari refugee camp", Journal of Humanitarian Logistics and Supply Chain Management, Vol. 11 No. 2, pp. 296-319.



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