Double the Trouble: Responding to the Dual Crisis Presented by Disaster Evacuations and Pandemic Response

Research Team: Susan Shaheen (Lead), Stephen Wong, and Adam Cohen

University: UC Berkeley

Problem Statement: COVID-19 has led to widespread shelter-in-place orders, social distancing measures, and new sanitation policies to control the spread of the virus. While governments in California continue to face unprecedented challenges in their COVID-19 response, these could be exacerbated by natural disasters (particularly wildfires, mudslides, and flooding) which often require the evacuation of large populations to protect lives. To effectively and equitably evacuate people, governments need a wide range of strategies including leveraging high capacity public transit, facilitating resource sharing among neighbors, housing people in public shelters, encouraging friends and family to shelter evacuees, and working in close proximity with the public to manage response and recovery, which may directly conflict with COVID-19 protocols. The resulting conflict could have severe consequences, leading to rapid increases in COVID-19 infections and deaths and/or increasing injuries, and deaths from the natural hazard. Along with these simultaneous disasters, utility providers have begun to employ public safety power shutoff (PSPS) events to reduce fire risk. California is likely to face COVID-19, a PSPS event, and a wildfire at the same time, exacerbating the negative impacts of each crisis and causing a cascading failure of resources, response mechanisms, and governmental action.

Project Description: This research will address the challenge of responding to and recovering from simultaneous and compounding disasters and crises that will likely impact California in the near future. Specifically, this project will inform safe and effective evacuation response strategies by: 1) assessing case studies of recent disasters during the COVID-19 crisis; 2) interviewing up to 25 experts in public health, healthcare, and emergency management; and 3) analyzing already-collected survey data on California PSPS travel behavior.

Status: In Progress

Budget: $74,000