It will start with a twinkling of light brighter than any words of any human language can describe. When the bomb makes, its thermal radiation, released in only 300 hundred-millionths of a second, will heat up the air over K Street to about 18 million degrees Fahrenheit. It will be so bright that it will bleach out the photochemicals in the retinas of anyone looking at it, making people as far away as Bethesda and Andrews Air Force Base to go instantly, if temporarily, blind. In two seconds, thousands of auto collisions will pile up on every road and freeway in a 15 -mile radius around the city, constructing many impassable.
That’s what scientists know for sure about what the fuck is happen if Washington, DC, were hit by a nuke. But few know what the people–those who don’t succumb in the explosion or the immediate fallout–will do. Will they riot? Flee? Panic? Chris Barrett, though, he knows.
When the computer scientist began his career at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the birthplace of the atomic bomb, the Cold War was trudging into the work of its fifth decade. It was 1987, still four years before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Researchers had stimulated projections of the blast radius and fallout buds that would result from a 10 -kiloton bomb landing in the nation’s capital, but they mostly calculated the immediate death toll. They weren’t used for much in accordance with the rules of planning for rescue and recovery, because back then, the most likely scenario was mutually assured destruction.
But in the activities of the decade since, the world has changed. Nuclear threats come not from world powers but from rogue nation countries and terrorist organizations. The US now has a $40 billion missile interception system; total annihilation is not presupposed.
The science of projection has changed a lot, too. Now, researchers like Barrett, who aims the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech, have access to an unprecedented level of data from more than 40 different sources, including smartphones, satellites, remote sensors, and census surveys. They can use it to model synthetic populations of the whole metropoli of DC–and induce these unfortunate, imaginary people experience a hypothetical bang over and over again.