Posted on: November 24, 2015
When Dr. Andrew Park published his counterterrorism research this summer, he had no idea how quickly it would become so relevant.
With his research team, Park, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and an expert in virtual environments, has developed a modeling and simulation system that can anticipate not only which way crowds move during a terrorist attack, but also where to best place emergency responders to limit injury or loss of life.
Read: “A systematic approach to developing a computational framework for counter-terrorism and public safety,” published in Social Networks, Terrorism and Counterterrorism.
Park, a senior research fellow with the Simon Fraser University’s Institute for Canadian Urban Research Studies, completed this research for the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society. His interest in virtual environments dates back to graduate school where he used computing technology to map Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to see how people navigated the environment.
This latest study in counterterrorism began in 2014, and works by using the known realities of crowd behaviour during terrorist attacks. The two scenarios used for his simulation were the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 and the 2013 Westgate Mall attacks in Nairobi, Kenya.
The latest attacks in Paris only show how vital these virtual crowd control technologies can be for training first responders.
“These days it’s hard to predict where a terrorist attack will happen. In the past, terrorists have been known to target well-known landmarks and big stadiums, but when you see the Paris attacks, no one expects small restaurants to be the targets,” he said, noting that the value of his virtual simulation tool is that it can constantly be fed new information to run a variety of scenarios.
“Whether it is an attack of bombs or biological weapons, we can run a simulation to see how people behave and develop a strategy. We can put emergency responders at strategic location so we can see how to evacuate crowds. We can see how long it will take and make a better strategic plan.”
Even though he is using existing game technologies, the inputs are coming from social science studies, so Park and his team not only enter information about new locations, but they can also change the type of crowds.
“There are different types of crowds. There are sports crowds, then there are just bystanders. Our simulation reflects what is happening in the real world to make it as useful as possible.”
Park recently returned from the IEEE International Conference on Data Mining in Atlantic City, NJ, where he presented his forthcoming research paper, “A Decision Support System for Crowd Control Using Agent-Based Modeling and Simulation.” This research uses what Park calls SimCrowdControl, and simulates the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riot.
Dr. Andrew Park