Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A new kind of firefighting

I managed to miss a potentially interesting edition of Horizon on the BBC after making the mistake of flicking over to watch the second half of the Manchester Utd/Milan match.

Anyway, I caught the last ten minutes, and managed to glean the basic facts: that fewer people would have died when the Twin Towers collapsed on September 11 had the authorities been in possession of a global picture of the state of the building (in terms of both its structure and the movement of its occupants). But having the raw data is not enough: it needs to be provided as input to predictive models that are capable of allowing firefighters to play "what if" games. These models are necessarily computationally complex and resource intensive, which is where Jose Torero comes in. He's in charge of Firegrid, an interdisciplinary project dedicated to using Grid-based computing to model and predict, in real-time, the evolution of fire emergencies.

This work is related to my own on evacuation modelling, and we've recently been awarded a Ph.D. studentship in order to develop our ideas on how crush conditions emerge in situations where people fail to follow a set evacuation plan. This work will be done in collaboration with Dr Steve Gwynne, who has worked for the last ten years on modelling people movement, and who helped develop the influential Exodus system. The position will be advertised shortly, so watch this space.

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