Imagine it’s the final minute of the gold-medal match, and Team Canada scores a goal. GM Place starts to shake. You think it’s the excitement of the packed arena and the reverberations of the applause – but it keeps shaking – you realize it’s an earthquake.
Will there be a power outage? How will the facility be evacuated? Where will injured people be taken?
A UBC team is imagining just such a scenario during the upcoming 2010 Olympic Games and answering these questions using software that models essential services and utilities during a disaster. Led by UBC Electrical Engineering professor José Martí, the Infrastructures Interdependencies Simulation (I2Sim) team aims to minimize human suffering should a disaster occur.
I2Sim was chosen by Defence Research and Development Canada to assist in planning and real-time decision support for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games. Adapted specifically for downtown Vancouver, I2Sim’s role includes modeling utilities, responders, venues and hospitals; running simulations with public data; and assisting responders.
Developed by a team of experts from electrical and computer engineering, civil engineering, computer science, geography, commerce and psychology, I2Sim models the interaction of infrastructure systems – the things we rely on for normal city life – food, water, safety and order, healthcare, finance, electricity, telecommunications, transportation, government and defense. I2Sim simulates and predicts how a disaster may compromise any one or several of these systems, and allows for planning and real-time human decision-making support during a dynamic crisis scenario.
For example, if an earthquake rocks GM Place during a game, the software immediately models the dynamic situation and advises managers of essential workers such as paramedics, doctors, engineers and transportation managers how to best proceed to minimize human suffering.
“The Olympics in Vancouver provides some specific challenges,” says Martí. “In developing exit strategies, you must consider many fans may not speak English. There is one hospital downtown, and it is on a peninsula, so bridges must be safe to travel to other hospitals. Many factors must be modeled at the same time.”
With key input measures in place, the software can immediately evaluate the evacuation needs of GM Place, the availability of beds at St. Paul’s Hospital and the best route to get there, and provide contingency if St. Paul’s is damaged or full.
Martí explains that on one level, this project is about combining engineering skills with human needs, and on another, about decision-making when resources aren’t sufficient.
“The overriding question is, how do we balance needs in critical decision-making situations?” says Martí. “It’s essentially an optimization problem with the goal of ensuring human lives and minimizing impact.”
The I2Sim tool assigns value to limited resources and allocates them to the most essential areas, helping curtail a cascading collapse of infrastructures and escalation of an emergency, thus optimizing what is available at any given time. Understanding the interdependencies of critical infrastructures is essential to mitigating the impact of a crisis, and is at the core of I2Sim’s effectiveness.
UBC Engineering faculty members have played essential roles in the project. Principle Investigator Martí understands the capability of the simulation tool and the expertise of the team. Civil Engineering professor Carlos Ventura contributes a keen understanding of structural damage and extensive experience in earthquake engineering. Electrical and Computer Engineering professor KD Srivastava provides expertise from his years of organizational experience. The team employs two professional engineers, one for programming and one for project management.
I2Sim includes a team of 12 graduate and undergraduate students.
“It has been tremendously motivating to work on I2Sim,” says Hugón Juárez García, a civil engineering PhD candidate. “Certainly being part of the Olympics is exciting, but ultimately, this is a tool that can be employed in any area of the world in the event of a disaster. It can save lives. What greater reward could there be?”