Planning for panic and everything in-between

Blog Post created by luciandeaton Employee on Mar 5, 2018

How we plan and manage evacuations of communities in the path of wildfire was discussed in a packed room at the WUI 2018 Conference last week. I have been a part of many conference sessions over the years and it was refreshing to see an audience so engaged and eager to explore an issue. The passion is there because it’s about people’s lives.


From the panel, Daniel Gorham, of the NFPA Research Foundation, presented the recently released, “e-Sanctuary” report that describes a novel framework for modeling wildfire urban evacuations. Dan explained how the report synthesizes the complex forecasting tools of fire spread, human behavior, and vehicle traffic modeling to illustrate how an evacuation would unfold in a given area throughout a risk. A tool that can combine these models is seen as a way to help communities identify challenges to evacuation, before smoke is in the air.


Boise Fire Department Capt. Jerry McAdams and Austin Fire Department Capt. Josh Anderson brought a implementing prospective to the room, explained the realities of evacuation from the department prospective, public perceptions, and municipal planning.


Chief Dave Driscoll, CAL FIRE, Ret., who moderated the panel discussion, got the room thinking about evacuation and how we plan for it as an event. He explained that an evacuation is a formula of time, distance, and volume of people, which can occur with spontaneous, immediate, or planned methods. It was great to see a room consider his question of when is something an evacuation and when is it a rescue. If it’s the latter, fire departments do evacuations every day, but how do they train for them?


Fire service members from California shared their challenges seen in evacuations from recent wildfires and asked whether a model framework can anticipate the public panic of human behavior in the moment. It is a good point to raise and the hope of any model is to identify community risks and reduce their impacts at time of evacuation, regardless of timing.

The good test of a conference session is if the audience wants it to go long, and they did, with the 20 minutes of audience discussion allotted spilling over 10 minutes more into the break. The issue of evacuation is a great challenge to residents and the fire service alike.


Read more about the “e-Sanctuary” report and share your thoughts on what is missing from our current understanding of community evacuation, especially when smoke is in the air.


Photo Credits: Lucian Deaton