Doctoral Research

Bill Johnstone completed his Ph.D. in Civil Engineering at the University of British Columbia in 2012. Drawing from his Systems Design Engineering background and his work with a broad range of clients, his research developed life safety analysis methods that could be used to help stakeholders assess the effectiveness of proposed mitigations and emergency response plans for extreme hazards such as dam failures, levee failures, tsunami, and industrial/ nuclear/ biological accidents. Below you can find an abstract, a link to his dissertation and other materials.


Rapid-Onset, High-Intensity hazards such as dam failures, tsunami, flash floods, volcanic lahars, urban-wildland interface fires and industrial accidents can produce catastrophic mortality for Populations at Risk (PAR). Governments, local communities and other stakeholders can use risk management, sustainable hazards mitigation and emergency/disaster management processes before an event to establish a Community Protection System (CPS) to protect the PAR. A CPS is a system-of-systems that combines the capabilities of the natural, critical infrastructure and social infrastructure environments. Since a CPS can be expensive to establish and maintain, and since there can be many uncertainties associated with system performance, there is a need to develop reliability-based Life Safety Measures that can be used to analyse and rank alternatives, to optimize designs and to inform stakeholders. Forensic datasets that describe historic disaster outcomes generally cannot support the process of loss and survival estimation; therefore, analytical and simulation-based methods must be used to develop synthetic CPS performance data. Life Safety can be assessed using two limit state equations that assess the sufficiency of time and the sufficiency of protection offered to individuals in the hazard impact zone. These equations consider causal event chains, spatial pathways, network interdependencies, management decisions, differential vulnerabilities, individual decisions and emergent/non-linear systems behaviours. The performance estimates can be estimated and visualized using a Life Safety Performance Space and a time-dependent Life Safety State Space. A Systems Modelling Framework is developed to guide the integration of the analytical and systems simulation models used to estimate mortality and survival. The framework combines concepts from systems engineering, systems safety, Geographic Information Systems, systems simulation, critical infrastructure modelling, hazards research and disaster research. The resulting probabilistic-causal-quantitative framework provides a basis for developing estimates that are transparent and defensible. Detailed theoretical formulations of the Systems Modelling Framework and the Life Safety Measures are developed. A series of hypothetical examples are used to demonstrate the methods. Applications are developed for tsunami preparedness and dam safety at the macro-, meso- and micro-resolutions. The tsunami example considers the Cascadia Subduction Zone tsunami hazard. The dam safety examples consider the St. Francis and Malpasset Dam Failures.


Dr. Johnstone's supervisor was Dr. Barbara Lence. Click here to view her UBC profile.

Academic Scholarships, Collaborations and Financial Support

Academic Scholarships

Research Collaborations and Support

Financial Support

  • BC Hydro and Power Authority
  • Emergency Management British Columbia
  • NSERC Collaborative Research and Development Grant
  • Geomatics for Informed Decisions, an NSERC Centre of Excellence

Three Minute Thesis Poster


Snapshot of Malpasset Evacuation Simulation

Tofino Tsunami Inundation Model

Life Safety Performance Measures

Three Minute Thesis