Behavior-driven Building Safety and Emergency Management for Campus Communities
Lead PI:
Burcin Becerik-Gerber

Campus communities are vulnerable to a wide range of emergencies such as active shooter incidents and fires, exposing students, teachers, and other members to significant risks. This Smart and Connected Communities Integrative Research Grant (SCC-IRG) project aims to explore new ways in which human behaviors are systemically and robustly incorporated into building design and emergency protocols. Specifically, the focus of the project is to understand how people in different roles respond to building emergencies, both individually and collectively, with empirical data collected from human-subject experiments, behavioral theories, and insights from domain experts. Intelligent crowd simulations are developed to represent the goals, preferences, and actions of diverse groups of building occupants as well as their interactions with others and the environment. The research team works synergistically with a range of campus community stakeholders, including first responders, law enforcement and emergency management personnel, and building designers to parameterize, validate, and test the crowd simulation. Appropriate applications are identified to mitigate safety and health risks. Underrepresented and underprivileged students are recruited into the research activities. Furthermore, the team explores the generalizability of the methodology, datasets, and research findings to non-building emergencies and non-campus communities.

Current crowd simulations for examining building emergencies often rely on oversimplified assumptions about human behaviors, lack cross-examination in different emergency contexts, and overlook the varied needs of stakeholders. To address these gaps, this project considers two common yet distinctive building emergencies (i.e., active shooter incidents, and fires) that are common in campus communities, and holistically models the impact of personal, social, and environmental factors on human behaviors of building occupants. The team implements agent-based models and develops multi-agent crowd simulations that capture individual and collective behaviors based on a highly reconfigurable and adaptable decision-theoretic framework. The team also engages campus stakeholders as well as other community members in a series of workshops to co-create likely and representative emergency scenarios. By allowing for exploring the outcomes of such “what-if” scenarios, the crowd simulation software has the potential to serve as a valuable tool for building designers, facility operators, and emergency managers.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Burcin Becerik-Gerber
Dr. Burcin Becerik-Gerber is a professor and Chair of Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and founder and the Director of USC Center for Intelligent Environments (CENTIENTS). During the last 15 years, her research focused on advanced data acquisition, modeling, visualization for design, construction, and control of user-centered responsive and adaptive built environments. She pioneered a new field: Human-Building Interaction (HBI), which is a convergent field that represents the growing complexities of the dynamic interplay between human experience and intelligence within built environments. She published her work in more than 150 peer-reviewed journal and conference papers. Her work has received support worth over $12 million from a variety of sources, including the NSF, DoE, DHS and DoT and corporate sponsors. In 2012, she was named by the MIT’s Technology Review as one of the top 35 technology innovators under the age of 35 (first civil engineering faculty to receive this recognition). She received the FIATECH Celebration of Engineering and Technology Innovation Award in 2018. The same year, she was awarded the Rutherford Visiting Fellowship by the Alan Turing Institute, UK’s national data science and AI institute. Between 2012-2019, she held the inaugural Stephen Schrank Early Career Chair. In 2020, she was appointed as a USC Viterbi Dean's Professor. In 2021, se was elected to the National Academy of Construction. Since 2021, she serves on the Board on Infrastructure and the Constructed Environment of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. She received mentoring and leadership recognitions such as the Mellon Mentoring Award (2017) and an Executive Leadership in Academic Technology, Engineering and Science (ELATES) Fellowship (2021), which speak to her commitment to education and leadership in academia. In 2022, she received an Emmy Award as a co-producer of the documentary, “Lives, Not Grades,” which told the story of a novel course, she co-designed and co-taught, that focused on engineering innovation for global challenges.
Performance Period: 08/15/2023 - 07/31/2026
Institution: University of Southern California
Award Number: 2318559