Computer models are helping public health researchers plan for disasters.

For instance, if a plume of toxic smoke was to hit downtown Los Angeles, would you be better staying inside your building or dashing for the street? Computer models help researchers test out different scenarios to answer just these kinds of questions.

Joshua M. Epstein, a professor in the College of Global Public Health at New York University, research uses “agent-based modeling”—kind of like a more serious version of the game The Sims—to predict how real people with real emotions will respond and interact in the case of a major emergency.

Here, Epstein explains his work and how it could help save lives:

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