Colorado State University Associate Professor Hussam Mahmoud is developing novel computational models aimed at modeling the response of communities to multi-hazard disasters, including understanding the societal and economic impacts of events such as hurricanes and wildfires. His research is aimed at providing new, integrated information that can be leveraged for risk assessment, community planning and adaptation, emergency response planning, and communication with the public before, during, and after disasters strike.
In his most recent paper published in the journal Nature, “Unraveling the complexity of wildland-urban interface fires”, Mahmoud and co-author Ph.D. candidate Akshat Chulahwat report the development of a new, probabilistic approach, based in graph theory, for quantifying community vulnerability to wildfires. Their approach evaluates fire propagation probabilities across the domain, and uses these to quantify the vulnerability of a community via a computed vulnerability index. The model was calibrated using data from one of the most destructive wildfires in U.S. history, the 1991 Tunnel Fire in Oakland, CA, which resulted in 25 fatalities, 150 casualties and approximately US$ 1.5 billion in economic losses. Mahmoud and Chulahwat’s initial tests revealed the distance between ignitable structures as one of the key underlying factors affecting Oakland’s vulnerability to wildfires.
Mahmoud and Chulawat also developed a “hazard-agnostic,” finite element resilience model that they used to simulate “Gotham City under attack” via social, economic, and infrastructure disruptions. The results for the Gotham City test bed showed that a fast recovery from a disruption can lead to longer-term instabilities, suggesting that planning for the post-event re-establishment of community “lifelines” must consider the community as an integrated system if recovery is to be stable over the long term.