This article was originally posted November 2011 by The Huntsman Post.
Three Utah State University Colleges Share $600,000 Grant
By Paul Lewis Siddoway
Dozens of computer characters are about to become very stressed out thanks to the research of a professor at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business.
The characters will be reacting to emergency situations such as explosions and fires as researchers try to find out ways to better help disabled people during emergency situations and building evacuations.
Yong Seog Kim, an associate professor in the management information systems (MIS) department at the Huntsman School, is one of four principal lead researchers from three Utah State University colleges and three university research centers which have been awarded a $600,000 grant to conduct the study.
USU’s colleges of agriculture and engineering, as well as the Center for Persons with Disabilities, Center for Self-Organizing and Intelligent Systems, and the Utah Transportation Center are also involved in the project.
Dr. Kim is developing the software used to program the agents or individuals in the computer simulations. The agents will be able to respond to emergency situations based on information gathered from real simulations and human behavior, which he said are anything but straightforward.
“It’s not just simple evacuation of people without disability,” Dr. Kim said. “We would like to see how people without disabilities would react to the people with disabilities. So we are looking at the psychological impact.”
John D. Johnson, department head of MIS at the Huntsman School, said Dr. Kim is an integral part of the simulation portion of the research.
“He develops software that can mimic human characteristics and demonstrate what people would do in a real emergency,” Dr. Johnson said. “Computer agents in a simulation can react to an emergency just as real people would, giving researchers vital information they need in order to draw informed conclusions and make valid recommendations.”
Agent-based simulation has been Dr. Kim’s research specialty since his MIS Ph.D. program at the University of Iowa in 2001, and he said one challenge is predicting human behavior when programming the agents.
Another worry is the sheer amount of experiments, Dr. Kim said, due to all the architectural and human variables.
“Since we need to have very complete data, we are looking at many different experiments,” he said. “When you look at all the different combinations, we found out we need about 100 experiments.”
Dr. Kim said he is very excited for this opportunity and ties this project into the Huntsman School’s “analytical rigor” pillar of education. Graduate students will help extract information from the raw data, analyze it, and build the models, Dr. Kim said, adding that the first phase of the project, which is primarily data collection, is planned to conclude in 2013.