Improving Our Understanding of Fire Evacuation and Displacement Effects

Although there is significant literature on evacuations for slow-moving disaster events (e.g., hurricanes), far less is known about rapid evacuation decision-making. There is limited understanding about how populations respond post-disaster. For example, what are the factors at play when households intend to return to living in high-risk areas? This research aims to improve understanding of urban edge wildfire resilience by examining three key mobility aspects of the November 2018 Camp Fire disaster: communication, evacuation, and post-disaster residential decisions. Specifically, the researchers will study evacuation behavior and communication patterns as well as the residential decisions made post-disaster, paying particular attention to disadvantaged populations who are limited in their options in the wake of disasters. To answer these questions, the researchers will use survey data collected November 2018 through January 2019 of Camp Fire survivors living in Red Cross shelters coupled with a 6-month follow-up survey.

Knowing how and where people disperse in the short term is important for many reasons. First, evacuation behavior has important ramifications for evacuation models used in fire safety engineering. During the Camp Fire, almost no one received a formal evacuation warning due to a power shutoff, destruction of nearby cell towers, and the general absence of landline phone ownership. There is also a significant and important gap in our understanding of how to best accommodate vulnerable populations in these kinds of crises. Many of those who perished during the fire evacuation were the elderly and disabled. The aftershocks of property and job loss can also be more significant and persist longer for those who are vulnerable. For example, households owning or renting mobile homes do not receive the same federal assistance that property owners receive, which puts them at a particular disadvantage in housing markets with soaring rents and minimal availability. This was particularly evident in the North Bay after the October 2017 wildfires and in Chico after the Camp Fire. In short, this research will improve understanding of the urban edge wildfire resilience by developing greater insight into three key mobility aspects of the Camp Fire disaster: communication, evacuation, and post-disaster residential location decision-making.

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