Wildfire planning often focuses on individual buildings, but little guidance exists for effective citywide evacuation planning.
Increasingly powerful fires are devastating communities around the world, with tens of thousands of people already affected this year. “And yet, when it comes to things like planning evacuations, best practices don’t really exist—there’s no book to consult, no checklist to follow,” writes Caroline Mimbs Nyce in The Atlantic.
“The reason for this is that wildfire-evacuation research is still in its infancy,” Mimbs Nice explains. Although robust fire codes for buildings do exist, the same can’t be said for whole communities. Meanwhile, the unpredictable nature of fire makes it difficult to model predicted outcomes and establish protocols.
Mimbs Nyce outlines the challenges faced by authorities and residents during a fire: notification, time to meet with loved ones and get essentials, and transit time out of an affected area, which can be affected by road design, exit routes, and traffic. In addition to evacuation preparations, a town can also designate a highly protected gathering place as a refuge for people unable to flee.
Ali Mosleh, director of the B. John Garrick Institute for the Risk Sciences at UCLA, emphasizes the importance of developing standards catered to the needs of different types of communities. “They might need different numbers of evacuation routes, and different sorts of community-warning systems. Existing tools and simulations, like the one run on Camp Fire data, can help guide policy makers.”
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