The Internet of Things (IoT) has inspired solutions that are already available for addressing problems in various application scenarios, such as healthcare, security, emergency support and tourism. However, there is no clear approach to modeling these systems and envisioning their capabilities at the design time. Therefore, the process of designing these systems is ad hoc
and its real impact is evaluated once the solution is already implemented, which is risky and expensive. This paper proposes a modeling approach that uses human-centric wireless sensor networks to specify and evaluate models of IoT-based systems at the time of design, avoiding the need to spend time and effort on early implementations of immature designs. It allows designers to focus on the system design, leaving the implementation decisions for a next phase. The article illustrates the usefulness of this proposal through a running example, showing the design of an IoT-based solution to support the first responses during medium-sized or large urban incidents. The case study used in the proposal evaluation is based on a real train crash. The proposed modeling approach can be used to design IoT-based systems for other application scenarios, e.g., to support security operatives or monitor chronic patients in their homes.