Date of Award

Summer 2022

Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Aviation


College of Aviation

Committee Chair

Dothang Truong, Ph.D.

First Committee Member

John M. Robbins, Ph.D.

Second Committee Member

Dahai Liu, Ph.D.

Third Committee Member

Gregory S. Woo, Ph.D.


The purpose of this research was to develop a novel routing model for delivery of medical supplies using unmanned aircraft systems, improving existing vehicle routing models by using patient risk as the primary minimization variable.

The vehicle routing problem is a subset of operational research that utilizes mathematical models to identify the most efficient route between sets of points. Routing studies using unmanned aircraft systems frequently minimize time, distance, or cost as the primary objective and are powerful decision-making tools for routine delivery operations. However, the fields of emergency triage and disaster response are focused on identifying patient injury severity and providing the necessary care. This study addresses the misalignment of priorities between existing routing models and the emergency response industry by developing an optimization model with injury severity to measure patient risk.

Model inputs for this study include vehicle performance variables, environmental variables, and patient injury variables. These inputs are used to construct a multi-objective mixed-integer nonlinear programming (MOMINLP) optimization model with the primary objective of minimizing total risk for a set of patients. The model includes a secondary aim of route time minimization to ensure optimal fleet deployment but is constrained by the risk minimization value identified in the first objective. This multi-objective design ensures risk minimization will not be sacrificed for route efficiency while still ensuring routes are completed as expeditiously as possible.

The theoretical foundation for quantifying patient risk is based on mass casualty triage decision-making systems, specifically the emergency severity index, which focuses on sorting patients into categories based on the type of injury and risk of deterioration if additional assistance is not provided. Each level of the Emergency Severity Index is assigned a numerical value, allowing the model to search for a route that prioritizes injury criticality, subject to the appropriate vehicle and environmental constraints.

An initial solution was obtained using stochastic patient data and historical environmental data validated by a Monte Carlo simulation, followed by a sensitivity analysis to evaluate the generalizability and reliability of the model. Multiple what-if scenarios were built to conduct the sensitivity analysis. Each scenario contained a different set of variables to demonstrate model generalizability for various vehicle limitations, environmental conditions, and different scales of disaster response.

The primary contribution of this study is a flexible and generalizable optimization model that disaster planning organizations can use to simulate potential response capabilities with unmanned aircraft. The model also improves upon existing optimization tools by including environmental variables and patient risk inputs, ensuring the optimal solution is useful as a real-time disaster response tool.