Computer models help with riot control

The randomness of riots is also what makes them so dangerous. Now, a geographer at Arizona State University is designing a computer model to help predict human behaviour at its most unpredictable.

The model will be used to simulate mobs, evacuations and natural disasters to assist the planning of cities and shopping centres. It should also indicate the best way to diffuse disturbances during a crisis, without the use of force.

The researcher, Paul M Torrens, says: ‘It is impractical to establish live experiments to reproduce mob behaviour during riots for the purposes of academic experimentation. You couldn’t stage a realistic rehearsal of an evacuation because people are not going to panic appropriately.’

Torrens believes current models do not fully account for the individuality of the crowd members. The new model will incorporate factors such as age, sex, size, and health, together with more emotional factors such as body language and the levels of panic people are feeling.

The model will not just be used to predict states of fear, however. It could also be used to predict the transmission of disease, and help governments find more persuasive ways of discouraging the use of cars.

It is very extensive, recording the state of every person 60 times a second. It has already been used to model a crowd’s reaction to fire in densely clustered buildings, with realistic results.

‘When trying to evacuate, people start to run and panic,’ says Torrens. ‘Jams will occur and the evacuation doesn’t proceed as efficiently as it might otherwise.’

His research relies heavily on the National Science Foundation Career Award. The $400,000 award is very prestigious, and rarely given to geographers.

Twitter icon
Google icon icon
Digg icon
LinkedIn icon
Reddit icon
e-mail icon

Gemma Church finds out how astronomers are using simulations to investigate the extremities of our universe


Turning data into scientific insight is not a straightforward matter, writes Sophia Ktori


The Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) is driving the development of new energy-efficient practices for HPC, as Robert Roe discovers


William Payne investigates the growing trend of using modular HPC, built on industry standard hardware and software, to support users across a range of both existing and emerging application areas


Robert Roe looks at developments in crash testing simulation – including larger, more intricate simulations, the use of optimisation software, and the development of new methodologies through collaboration between ISVs, commercial companies, and research organisations