Purpose Locating disaster response centers is one of the key elements of efficient relief operations. The location and infrastructure of the candidate facilities usually conform to the required criteria at different levels. This study aims to identify the criteria for the main and local distribution center location problem separately and prioritize each candidate distribution center using a hybrid multiple criteria decision-making approach. Design/methodology/approach The proposed model incorporates analytic hierarchy process (AHP) and Technique for Order Preference by Similarity to Ideal Solutions (TOPSIS) under interval type-2 fuzzy sets (IT2FSs) to overcome the uncertainty of experts` judgments and expressions in the evaluations of candidate distribution centers. In the proposed approach, weights of the criteria are determined using type-2 fuzzy AHP and the candidate distribution centers are prioritized using type-2 fuzzy TOPSIS. Findings Transportation, cost, infrastructure and security are determined as the main criteria for the main distribution center location criteria. Cost, warehouse facilities and security are the main criteria for local distribution center location selection. Prioritization enables decision-makers to assess each alternative accordingly to be able to select the best locations/facilities for efficient disaster response operations. Originality/value This study proposes new multi-criteria decision support models for prioritizing disaster response distribution centers. IT2FSs are used to be able to reflect both the complexity and vagueness of disaster environment and expert opinions. Different support models are suggested for main and local distribution centers considering their different missions. The proposed methodology is applied in Istanbul city, Turkey, where a high-magnitude earthquake is expected.