What are the patterns of human behavior and movement in crowded cities that turn agitated crowds into anti-social mobs? This question, as well as the ability to configure civic areas as defensible spaces, are addressed by an immersive 3D computational model under development by Paul M. Torrens, a geographer at Arizona State University.

Since it is impractical or impossible to conduct live experiments with hundreds or thousands of people along busy streets to reproduce mob behavior during riots, or stage a realistic rehearsal of an evacuation, the model can be used to assist city planners, developers, public safety and health officials, and researchers in understanding crowd behavior in dense urban settings.

For example, the project will develop simulations to explore health issues such as how a pathogen could be transmitted through mobile pedestrians over a short time period, and identify the early signs of anti-social behavior in large crowds.

According to Torrens, "When trying to evacuate, people start to run and panic. The prototype model records every state of everything in the model every 60th of a second. Once those data are in the system, the model exports this information into a Geographic Information System, where the data can be analyzed mathematically."

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