Coping with disaster

Sandia’s Human Resilience Index helps cities identify population groups that are at risk for acute distress following a disaster.

Brain monitoring test

Sandia's advanced behavioral modeling and simulation tools have been used to predict and mitigate impacts to people after traumatic events.

For example, Sandia has developed models that simulate cognitive processes people use to make decisions and express behaviors during extreme events. Sandia has also developed the Human Resilience Index to help cities identify parts of their population that are at risk for acute distress following a disaster.

The strength, integrity, and resilience of individuals and communities are critical to the stability of social, political, and economic systems. Michael Berkowitz, managing director of The Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Challenge, notes:

"Building resilience is about making people, communities, and systems better prepared to withstand catastrophic events – both natural and manmade – and able to bounce back more quickly and emerge stronger from these shocks and stresses."

To help create resilient communities, cities need to understand societal behaviors before, during, and after disruptive events, and anticipate their responses to city plans.

Hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes have the potential to cause widespread panic and community instabilities that ultimately undermine a city's ability to effectively prepare for, respond to, and recover from the event. Understanding the human element of these events is essential to any resilience plan.

The risk-analysis tools used by cities typically do not take into account people's behavior and actions during extreme events. While conventional economic and risk analysis approaches are appropriate for ordinary changes in social and economic conditions (such as increases in energy costs), they can be unrealistic for extreme-event changes. Many infrastructure risk models are not well suited for assessing the dynamic impacts of extreme events on cities, due to their assumptions of perfect behavioral rationality and information, their lack of understanding important cultural/social and psychological factors affecting behavior, and their failure to consider unusual, scenario-specific conditions that extreme events pose on decision making.

Given the proliferation of social media, data, and modeling, cities have significant new opportunities to understand how their citizens are likely to react to an extreme event. These breakthroughs give local leaders unique opportunities to develop plans that both prepare citizens and mitigate dangerous behaviors such as resource hoarding, riots, panic, and extremism.

Cities can now use advanced modeling and simulation tools to assess how communities may respond to disruptions, and develop city rules and instructions to prepare for them. These models help cities better assess potential behaviors and counter-behaviors of various groups, ultimately allowing local leaders to implement effective plans and policies that are tailored to the important social and cultural needs of their citizens.

Sandia has advanced capabilities in human behavioral analysis that can provide cities with an assessment of which of their communities are at a higher risk for undesirable behavioral and societal responses to an extreme event. This assessment can help the city idendify data and practices to mitigate these risks. For example:

Human Resilience Index: Sandia has developed the Human Resilience Index (HRI) to help cities determine the environmental, social, and economic factors that contribute to community resilience and reduce the probability of community conflict and instability. To calculate the HRI, Sandia uses seven indicators:

  1. Population growth rate
  2. Population density
  3. Caloric intake per capita
  4. Renewable fresh water per capita
  5. Arable land per capita
  6. Median age
  7. Population health (including infant and child mortality and life expectancy)

Cities can use the HRI to evaluate strategies to help improve human ecological conditions, increase resilience to shocks, and reduce the threat of instability and conflict.

Social/cognitive/emotive models: Sandia has developed sophisticated models of how psychosocial, socioeconomic, and environmental circumstances affect group behaviors, and how communities of individuals make decisions and express behaviors. These models can enable cities to better understand and anticipate the interplay between governmental and community organizations, and the overall societal response to events. Included in this assessment are considerations of the dynamics that drive stability and instability within the modeled groups.

Household behaviors during extreme events: Sandia has cognitive-economic models of household behavior that can help cities understand how psychological (fear and stress), social, and extreme-event effects impact the demand for key resources, such as food and water, in a large metropolitan city. Analysis suggests that the impacts to key-resource demand caused by stress, fear, hoarding, and observing others doing the same could be far greater than those caused by the event itself.