By Anna Lynn Spitzer
07.21.05 – In any crisis – whether natural disaster or man-made catastrophe – the efficiency of the emergency response is often the difference between life and death. Timely disaster response also can reduce injuries, mitigate secondary disasters and decrease economic losses. But what constitutes the most efficient emergency response for scenarios that can differ enormously?
DrillSIM, a test bed simulator currently in development at the University of California, Irvine’s Calit2, seeks to improve the effectiveness of emergency response. By integrating different models – variables in the type of crisis, human reaction and location information – and different IT solutions (algorithms, hardware and software) into the test bed program, DrillSIM offers a “plug-and-play” platform for testing. The system can be used to design the response plan for a fire in a high-rise building occupied by 10,000 people, or – by plugging in different scenarios – the evacuation of a multi-building apartment complex during an earthquake.
Creators of DrillSIM began by developing computer programs to represent different agents, or people, who would potentially be involved in a crisis response. They “built” a prototype of a floor warden – the person responsible for evacuating a particular floor of a building – as well as several different types of “evacuees.”
Written into the programs are human variables based on behavior models compiled from sociological and cognitive studies. For example: if two employees were told to evacuate a building, one might decide to finish his task first, while the other would leave immediately. “It’s crucial to model these agents with behaviors that are as close to human as possible,” said Daniel Massaguer, a Ph.D. candidate who is one of two primary architects of the simulation. “That way, the results are more realistic and the test bed is more useful.” After creating several versions of these “agents,” the program replicates them until there are enough to meet the needs of the given scenario.
The goal of the DrillSIM simulation is to provide a platform for testing various information technology approaches to emergency response. In order to plug in IT solutions, DrillSIM models different response activities at both the macro (entire evacuation) and micro (individual
behavior) levels, with an emphasis on the flow of information. This information flow is monitored between different "entities" – defined as people, sensors and communication devices. By plugging in IT solutions at different points in the information flow, the impact on disaster management can be studied.
The benefit of the program is its ability to test different approaches and deliver hard data about individual success rates. "Has the evacuation rate improved? Was the decision-making quicker? Did the casualty rate decrease? These are questions the simulation answers, by utilizing the data plugged into it," explained Vidhya Balasubramanian, the other doctoral candidate working on the project.
The current edition, version 0.2, simulates evacuation within the Calit2 Building. This prototype will be enhanced in future versions to include better interfaces for plug-and-play options.
The project also features the capability, to be implemented in future versions, to integrate human participation into the simulated response. Human participation can be accomplished in two ways: subjects can actually evacuate the given spaces along with their computer-generated counterparts, or they can control the actions of the virtual figures by manipulating the simulation. Either way, human involvement in the emergency-response testing is beneficial to determining outcomes.
Human drills will utilize UCI’s Responsphere framework, hardware and software embedded in sections of the campus known as Smart-Space. Responsphere’s sensing modalities within the Smart-Space include audio, video, powerline networking, RFID and people-counting technologies. The video technology consists of a number of fixed Linksys WVC54G cameras (streaming audio as well as video) and several Canon VB-C50 tilt/pan/zoom cameras. These sensors communicate with an 8-processor (3Ghz) IBM e445 server. Data from the sensors is stored on an attached IBM EXP 400 with a 4TB RAID5EE storage array.
Responsphere’s sensing and communications capabilities, according to Technology Manager Chris Davison, eventually will be used to expand the test bed from the UCI Calit2 Building to the entire campus. “The ultimate objective of the program is to design a campus-level emergency-response drill– one that can be adapted for us on other campuses as well – in order to test various IT approaches and develop a foolproof emergency response plan,” he said.