New Disaster Modeling System Assists in Emergency Planning

By Larry Shuman, Bopaya Bidanda, Bryan Lawson, Ken Sochats, and Carey Balaban from Pittsburgh Economic Quarterly, October, 2008

Emergency planning requires new tools to adjust dynamically to changes in the urban environment and simulate responses to a variety of emergencies. An interdisciplinary team of University of Pittsburgh researches from the Swanson School of Engineering and the Schools of Information Sciences and Medicine has been developing these new tools for a disaster simulation system.

This “all hazards” disaster modeling system, called the Dynamic Discrete Disaster Simulation System (D4S2), is tested in the City of Pittsburgh. The authors present a case that overspecification of emergency plans becomes ineffective and potentially counterproductive when emergencies are large dynamic and require specialized assets. Dealing with complex and rapidly changing emergencies requires adaptive tools that can provide emergency managers with information to make decisions and evaluate the consequences of those decisions.

History of Emergency Planning

Today, there are problems with the state of emergency planning and plans. D4S2 c an help to make emergency planning more robust.

Emergency plans serve us well in preparing for day-to-day emergencies that are small, localized, numerous, and uniformly distributed throughout a city. The goal of an emergency plan is to provide stakeholders with an equal and effective response to all hazards. The optimal strategy is to locate response assets as close to the event as possible, which generally results in response assets evenly distributed throughout a city.

While this problem statement is a simplification, it is not too far from the current mode of emergency planning. City planners and emergency agencies normally tend to distribute their emergency response assets (fire, police, emergency medical services [EMS]) to address everyday emergencies. Factors such as population density, occurrence rates, topography, and transportation networks are taken into account to adjust the assets' locations. Political factors also weigh in to the plan. Every citizen wants emergency response to be quick and nearby.

There are several impediments to achieving the goal of rapid and even response. Some emergency assets are so specialized (e.g, hazmat, SWAT, bomb squads) that a city may only have one or a few units. Hospitals and other assets are treated as fixed ssets in the planners' equations since they are located by the goals of their respective owners rather by emergency response.

This mode of planning can be extended to moderately size emergencies. In the case of special events (e.g, sporting events, parades), assets are temporarily relocated and/or reserve force is maintained to support potential response.


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