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Before and after disaster

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

For their senior capstone project, four mechanical engineering students—Brian Bernstein, Jonathan Brown, Dale Jordan, and Max Sobel, all E’16—focused on creating a low-cost, quickly deployable solution for helping to mitigate property damage during wildfires. They designed what they’re calling FireNet, a 6-meter-tall structure with aluminum poles as frames and a stainless steel woven mesh net. Once a wildfire breaks out, the idea would be to stake one or more FireNets into the ground in front of buildings to block out embers, which can travel large distances by wind.

Early simulations have shown the frame is able to withstand the force of 60 mph winds and temperatures of 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Only steps away from this group, graduate student Michael Williams, MS’17, presented his interdisciplinary research team’s work that is focused on optimizing the response to another type of disaster—after the event happens. Specifically, the team of students and faculty is combining mathematical modeling and human-in-the-loop experiments to address how best to collect and clear debris from roads after man-made explosions or natural disasters like earthquakes.

By leveraging the fields of operations research, game design, and computer science, the team is developing a video game in which players are given a network of roads to clear following a disaster. They are tasked with determining the routes private sub-contractors should take to clear the debris—with the goal of minimizing the time it takes to clear the debris while also maximizing the profit gained for each sub-contractor. The goal is to develop a framework for how to best leverage human knowledge and computing to solve complex problems to achieve resilient infrastructure networks.

“The reason this is important is that if a community is destroyed, you want to rebuild it as quickly as possible,” said Williams, adding that such a framework would be particularly valuable for communities that are ravaged by natural disasters on a regular basis.

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

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