SportEvac: Stadium evacuation gets a new game planA new breed of simulation software called SportEvac is being developed and tested by the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety & Security
Getting 100,000 people into the University of Tennessee's Neyland Stadium for a Saturday afternoon college football game in an orderly fashion is one thing. But getting that same crowd back out safely in a hurry, or evacuating any high-profile sports venue, is a recurring nightmare for disaster managers.
What keeps them awake at night are visions of, say, terrorists launching several large smoke canisters from a boat on the Tennessee River just across Highway 158 from Neyland's south end zone. As the red cloud drifts into the stadium, the crowd will have no way of knowing the plume is harmless. The intent of the terrorists is not to kill anyone with the smoke; their intent is to incite a deadly stampede for the exits.
For evacuations on this scale, there's no dress rehearsal or practice drill, so disaster managers must rely on simulation software. To help disaster planners sleep better, a new breed of simulation software, called SportEvac, is being developed and tested by the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety & Security (NCS4) at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Using blueprints from real venues, the Southern Miss researchers are creating virtual, 3-D e-stadiums, crammed with as many as 70,000 animated human agents programmed to respond to threats as unpredictably as the humans they are modeled after. Managers will then be able to see how 70,000 fans behave, and misbehave, when spooked by a security threat. Earlier evacuation simulators were generally limited to crowds of about 5,000.
"Since it's nearly impossible to use a live audience for evacuation training, SportEvac provides us the capability of simulating a stadium/arena crowd virtually," said NCS4 director Louis Marciani.
Marciani said by simulating how sports fans behave in the minutes following an attack, SportEvac will help security experts answer key questions, such as how a stadium can be evacuated in the shortest time, how emergency workers can get in as fans are dashing out and what happens in the event of unpredictable complications such as wet floors, wheelchair congestion, stubborn aisle-seaters, fans fetching forgotten field glasses or inebriated bleacher bums.
SportEvac software is open source, meaning its capabilities will likely improve as users add enhancements. If a user creates a module that more accurately predicts parking lot gridlock or what happens when the power goes out, it can simply be plugged in.
SportEvac is currently in alpha testing; beta tests are set for July. Three tabletop exercises are planned this fall at Southern Mississippi, the University of Tennessee and the United States Military Academy at West Point.