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Simulating disasters to improve emergency responses

Civil emergencies such as flooding, terrorist attacks, fire, etc., can have devastating impacts on people, infrastructure, and economies. Knowing how to best respond to an emergency can be extremely difficult because building a clear picture of the emerging situation is challenging with the limited data and modelling capabilities that are available.

Agent-based modelling (ABM) is a field that excels in its ability to simulate human systems and has therefore become a popular tool for simulating disasters and for modelling strategies that are aimed at mitigating developing problems. However, the field suffers from a serious drawback: models are not able to incorporate up-to-date data (e.g. social media, mobile telephone use, public transport records, etc.). Instead they are initialised with historical data and therefore their forecasts diverge rapidly from reality.

The DUST project, led by CDRC researcher Dr Nick Malleson, aims to evidence the efficacy of the new methods by developing a cutting-edge simulation of a city – entitled the Dynamic Urban Simulation Technique (DUST) – that can be dynamically optimised with streaming ‘big’ data.


The model will ultimately be used in three areas of important policy impact:

  • As a tool for understanding and managing cities
  • As a planning tool for exploring and preparing for potential emergency situations
  • As a real-time management tool, drawing on current data as they emerge to create the most reliable picture of the current situation

Find out more

You can read the latest developments on the DUST website.