|Escape from New York? Virginia scientists are building a complex model that will show how 20 million people would react to nuclear bombs going off in Manhattan (pictured)|
Scientists are conducting a massive computer simulation to work out how New York would respond to a nuclear attack in the heart of Manhattan.
The three-year, $450,000 project will simulate two nuclear detonations and their effects on up to 20 million virtual 'agents' each representing civilian, first responder or other official over the course of 30 days.
But first they need to input data - a lot of data, taken from disaster reports across the US - to figure out how individuals really react to catastrophe.
'Computational social science is not experimental.' Professor William Kennedy of Virginia's George Mason University told The Atlantic. 'We don’t terrorize people and see how they behave.'
The agents will also be informed by where they are in the New York map - who and what is around them, and how far they are from the explosions and their loved ones.
The model will include subways, bus routes, bridges and roads. But it's not as easy as cribbing off Google Maps, Kennedy says.
'It’s frustrating us a little bit that the publicly available data is not very clean,' he said. 'We've found lots of road segments that aren’t connected.
'We can’t just import somebody else’s map of New York and the surrounding areas and have our agents fleeing the area, so we’re spending some effort in the last several weeks trying to collect and clean up that data so that we can actually use it.'
They also have to calculate the number of floors in the various buildings so that they can model evacuations properly.
And a debate at the minute is whether each agent should take up a square meter of space when they move, and if buildings should have doorways built into them or if agents should be allowed to leave blocks through a building's walls.
Williams says the simulation will initially model the movements of each agent in five-minute intervals, extending to 15-minute intervals as the 30-day window develops.
When it's finished, it should take 'a couple of days' to run through from beginning to end, he says - and that's with entire banks of computers to process the data.
But it could take up to five years, he said. Current funding runs to three years.
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