Tech by VICE

This Is What Would Happen if Terrorists Detonated a Nuke in Washington DC

Computer run simulations are helping researchers prepare for the worst.

by Matthew Gault
Apr 18 2018, 2:41pm

Ever since the invention of the first atom bomb, the US government has been running data models and studying the effects of a possible nuclear attack on the United States. Even a small yield nuke would kill thousands, panic the population, and cause infrastructure damage that's hard to imagine. Thanks to computer models created by researchers at the University of Colorado in Denver and the NDSSL/Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech, we have a better understanding of how people might react to a nuclear worst-case scenario.

The researchers constructed a digital version of DC that’s accurate down to the building, then populated it with artificially intelligent “agents” meant to mimic human behavior in the event of a disaster. This video from Science Magazine depicts the researcher’s simulation of a 10 kiloton yield nuclear explosion—a smaller blast than what hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki—just north of the White House.

With phone service disrupted due to destroyed towers and the heart of the city on fire, the digitized agents in the simulation ignored the danger of fallout and took to the roads in search of missing loved ones. Some even rushed towards the blast zone.

According to Science Magazine, this type of simulation is a new trend in disaster modeling and researchers are using it for more than just nuclear attacks. Epidemiologists, city planners, and even economists are using advanced computer simulations to model human behavior and plan for the worst.

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