US Scientists are conducting a massive computer simulation to work out how the city of New York would respond to a nuclear attack in the heart of Manhattan.
Expected to take three years and at the cost of $450, 000, the project will simulate two nuclear detonations and their effects on up to twenty million virtual ‘agents,’ each depicting a civilian, first responder or other officials, over a 30 day period.
But, first, the scientists will have to input a huge volume of data taken from disaster reports across the United States. The data will help them to figure out how individuals react to disasters.
“Computational social science is not experimental. We do not terrorize people and see how they behave,” said Professor William Kennedy of Virginia’s George Mason University.
In addition to ‘big data’ statistics, the researchers are using individual accounts from disaster survivors to govern their victims’ reactions.
The approach does not necessarily mean screaming in the streets, or movie-style panic.
According to Andrew Crooks, who is heading the project alongside Kennedy, the scientists have found that people seem to be reasonably well behaved, and do what they have been trained to do, or are told to do by local authorities.
However, there are cases such as Hurricane Katrina, where situations have not gone so smoothly, because the people did not trust the government, and because of the isolation caused by flooding, were shooting at rescuers.
Once the personalities of the virtual agents have been set, they will be dropped in a virtual New York map and left to react to the events as they take place.
The model will include subways, bus routes, bridges, and roads.