At The Atlantic, Kaveh Waddell has a conversation with researcher William Kennedy, who along with Andrew Crooks, is mining data from past tragedies such as the 1917 Halifax Explosion, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina to run computer simulations studying how humans would respond after a nuclear attack on Manhattan.
Kennedy: We’ve found that people seem to be reasonably well behaved and do what they’ve been trained to, or are asked or told to do by local authorities. Reports from 9/11 show that people walked down many tens of flights of stairs, relatively quietly, sometimes carrying each other, to escape buildings.
We’re finding those kinds of reports from other disasters as well—except after Hurricane Katrina. There, we have reports that people already didn’t trust the government, and then with the isolation resulting from the flooding, they were actually shooting at people trying to help.
So we’re going to model individuals responding to the immediate situation around them. They’re trying to leave the area, find food, water, and shelter: basic Maslow-like necessities.
Waddell: What are the goals that each individual agent will be balancing? Safety, hunger, family and friends, getting out of the area—how will the model treat those needs?
Kennedy: One of the aspects we’ll be modeling is the individual agents’ social networks. Communications with those people, and confirmation of their status, seems to be one of the first urgencies that people feel, after their immediate survival of the event.
Part of our modeling challenge is going to be figuring out if a parent would go through a contaminated area to retrieve a child at a daycare or school, putting themselves at risk in the process, because it’s important to them to physically be there with their children. Or do they realize that they’re isolated, that communications aren’t going to be available in the near term, and they only deal with their local folks who are now their family? That’s the sense we get.