Testing Wildfire Evacuation Strategies and Coordination Plans for Wildland- Urban Interface Communities in California

Research Team: Kenichi Soga (lead), Bingyu Zhao, and Louise Comfort

UC Campus(es): UC Berkeley

Problem Statement: Wildfire evacuations are persistent challenges every year in California. Current strategies rely on standard, but static approaches. However, implementing these are likely to be problematic under rapidly moving fire conditions and fragile communications infrastructures in Wildlife-Urban Interface (WUI) communities. In addition, current evacuation plans frequently neglect the challenges of coordinating operations across administrative boundaries (e.g., multiple towns sharing one highway exit), and limited communications between different jurisdictions (e.g., overwhelmed radio channels, loss of cellular signals). And most small, resource-strapped residential communities in WUI zones do not have the capacity to conduct dedicated evacuation studies.

Project Description: This research brings together academic researchers, local agencies, and commercial information providers to explore a set of generalizable evacuation strategies in representative areas in Marin County. The methods and choices of evacuation scenarios are based on previous wildfire evacuation research in the communities of Paradise, Bolinas, and Berkeley. Preliminary options to be examined include reducing the number of evacuating vehicles (e.g., carpooling), providing off-street staging locations for those vehicles, phased evacuations, and improved practices for communications/information sharing. These strategies will be evaluated in an enhanced simulation framework established in a previous research project. Four sites with representative fire, communications, and traffic characteristics have been identified by the Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority for this study: Woodacre “bowl,” Tamalpais Valley, Ross Valley, and a Novato neighborhood. External collaborator Zonehaven will provide zoning data and other key demographics, which will be incorporated into the case studies together with census data, site investigations, and agency feedback. This study will focus on developing a regional perspective that captures interactions among different organizations responsible for carrying out evacuations. The models will simulate various levels of coordination between evacuation town(s) and receiving town(s), or neighboring towns sharing the same highway. Output metrics will include clearance times and fire exposure times at individual and aggregated levels. The study will identify best practices and demonstrate the importance of regional collaboration for small WUI communities by providing generalizable evacuation strategies that could be adopted by other high-risk communities, and the minimum requirements needed for establishing an effective communications system.

Status: In Progress

Budget: $80,000

Project Partner(s): Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority; Zonehaven Inc.