Using Agent-based Modelling and Social Simulation for Emergency Management

The goal of this research is to explore the use of agent based simulation technology for planning and policy in the areas of climate change adaptation and emergency management. The work is inter-disciplinary at its core, involving both technical expertise from computer scientists, and social science expertise from social scientists. We are working closely with potential end-users of this technology, in particular The City of Port Phillip, the Victorian State Emergence Services, and the Country Fire Authority.

The platform and expertise being developed are part of the broader work that explores the use of Agent Based Modeling and Simulation in the area of Climate Change Adaptation, specifically the ARC Discovery Project ''An Extensible Agent-Based Framework for Exploring Climate Change Adaptation''. The ARC project aims to develop an interactive agent simulation framework that allows the creation of complex simulations by incrementally adding new agent-based models created by members of a large distributed community for exploring city based issues of climate change adaptation. The Bushfire BLOCKS project also has as its technical core, an extendible agent based simulation framework. The ARC project is more theoretical in nature with a far smaller application component. This project on the other hand is very much applied research where many of the particular technical questions addressed will depend substantially on the needs of the application as it is defined and developed – along with the longer term objective of developing agent based simulation tools that make the technology accessible and relevant to end-users.

Exploring the Adaptive Capacity of Emergency Management Using Agent-Based Modelling [Grant EM1105, 2012]

In February 2011, the inner-Melbourne suburb of Elwood experienced severe flash-flooding and damage from a storm caused by a low pressure system from the passing cyclone Yasi. A similar flood in 2005 inflicted extensive damage to properties and vehicles, and has raised many questions about the intensity and frequency of such events in the region, as well as the preparedness of the local community, government bodies, and emergency services for extreme weather situations.

In this study, our team of social and computer science researchers are working closely with the City of Port Phillip council and Victoria State Emergency Service (SES) to develop computer models to simulate community behaviours around sandbagging during flash-flooding in the Elwood region.

Discussions and interviews with the community, council, and emergency services, have been used to extract a better understanding of past flooding events and experiences in Elwood. Based on this consultation, it was identified that the use of sandbagging depots in area should be investigated as a possible means of mitigating the risks of flash-flooding. 

The computer models and simulations developed focus on the movement of people between their home and predefined sandbagging depots, and is used for exploring settings and procedures most effective for protecting as many homes as possible before an impending flood. The modelling uses actual flood progression data from past events in the area, and adds to that interactions of residents with flood waters as they go about obtaining sandbags to protect their homes. Multiple simulation “runs” of the scenario can then be used to explore questions like “Are sandbag depots likely to be effective in limiting damage to homes during a flood event”, “How many would be needed and what would be good locations for such depots?”, and “What queuing and filling procedures would be most suitable?” 

Simulation is valuable for emergency management to evaluate existing as well as potential future operational policies and procedures. This is an iterative process of ongoing engagement and feedback from involved communities and local government organisations, to allow further improvement of the developed models and their underlying assumptions.

[Download the simulation product brochure here]

Workshop - Friday November 30

In this workshop we will introduce this technology and demonstrate a flood event and community response simulation developed through this project. Participants will be guided through a hands-on exploration using the simulation. This event is aimed at decision makers and experts in climate change adaptation and emergency management from a wide range of organisations.

Updated Dec 3, 2012: Thank you to all who attended the workshop. We hope it was informative and useful to you - it certainly was for us. All workshop materials, including activities and software are now available for download from the links below:

Flood Response Educational Game

We have also developed a prototype online educational game with the aim of using this medium as a tool for disseminating important flood response messages to residents in a simple, fun, and interactive way. In this game, players control a character situated inside his house, and must help this virtual resident protect his home from an impending storm and flood. Players can control the movements of the character and interact with various aspects of his house. When the storm warning becomes current, players can help protect the house by helping the character fill and lay sandbags, as well as move valuables and hazardous elements to higher ground.

We thank Telematics Trust for funding to refine and evaluate this game.

To play the game now, click on the image or go here.

Agent based simulation framework for improved understanding of community & organisational resilience to extreme events: Bushfire BLOCKS [Grant EM09056, 2010]

In this work we have developed a software simulation in consultation with staff at Country Fire Authority (CFA), which shows a potential bushfire in Black Saturday or Ash Wednesday conditions, converging on the coastal town of Brimlea. To develop this simulation we have integrated fire data from the Phoenix fire simulator, traffic data using the agent based traffic simulator MATSim, and people's individual decision making using a purpose built module. The software and associated documentation, describing how to use the software for a different location, can be downloaded here as a zipfile. BushfireSim. There is a Readme file included in the zipfile, and it is also available here.

Preliminary work on the Bushfire BLOCKS simulation platform and the framework for integrating agent-based simulations as a single global simulation were presented as a demo and a poster at the 9th International Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems (AAMAS 2010). See under Publications below for a link to the papers.

A short video explaining and demonstrating our simulation is shown alongside. A QuickTime version of this video can be downloaded from here.

Related Publications

The list of publications related to this work is available here.

Participants and Collaborators

  • Lin Padgham
  • Dhirendra Singh
  • Shae Hunter
  • Fabio Zambetta
  • Sarah Hickmott
  • Dave Scerri
  • Gaya Jayatilleke
  • Karyn Bosomworth
  • Darryn McEvoy

  • Lalitha Ramachandran
  • Anne Dansey

  • Alice Godycki
  • Ross Butler

  • Adam Jenkins
  • Fiona Burns

Funding and Support

ARC Discovery Grant DP1093290 (2012 - 2012)
This research was supported under Australian Research Council's Discovery Projects funding scheme. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Australian Research Council.


NCCARF Grants EM09056 (2010) and EM1105 (2012)
This work was carried out with financial support from the Australian Government (Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency) and the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility. The views expressed herein are not necessarily the views of the Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth does not accept responsibility for any information or advice contained herein.


Telematics Trust Grant (2013)
Some of this work was carried out with funding support from the Telematics Trust, under the project Evaluation of Flood Preparation Game as a Community Education Tool.