Photo Credit: Lenya Quinn-Davidson

Evacuation preparedness and planning is at the top of mind for many communities right now. This topic covers a wide range of needs such as: alert and warning systems, language, the physical evacuation of people, transportation for those without personal vehicles or those who need more time to evacuate, sheltering, impacts on receiving communities, the intersection of COVID-19, re-entering, and more. It’s a BIG topic, with a lot of intersecting considerations related to equity and a wide range of practitioners involved in its planning and implementation. 

In order to meet the needs of the FAC Net members and partners who had been working on and talking about evacuation within the network, we hosted a series of conversations to begin to share dialogue around what practitioners and researchers were grappling with related to evacuation. 

Over the course of two webinars, 155 registrants from 24 states and 3 countries were able to learn from each other and interface with a diverse group of researchers working on evacuation. Participants had the opportunity to submit questions in advance as well as pose questions to the presenters during the webinars themselves.  

Both the practitioner- and researcher-focused webinars were recorded so if you missed the presentations and would like to learn more, you can view the full playlist here.

As a bonus check out a a previous FAC Net evacuation presentation featuring Sarah McCaffrey here.


Part 1 – Practitioners!

Check out the recording to hear presentations and a panel discussion from Chris Chambers (Ashland Fire & Rescue), Mike Chard (Boulder Office of Disaster Management) and Nathan Garibay (Deschutes County Office of Emergency Management). 

Links & Resources Shared During the Webinar:

Screenshot of a man in a zoom call on the right and text titled "Evacuation Notification Channels" on the left

Screen Capture of Chris Chambers, Ashland Fire & Rescue

Obviously, we couldn’t address all of the attendee’s questions during a series of 1.5 hour webinars,  so Nathan Garibay from Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Management Unit, offered to provide some written responses as follow up. This is just one perspective on some of the questions that practitioners had.

Q: Love the idea about a disaster registry to identify people who may need assistance. Is there a way the fire department works with schools, camps, assisted living facilities to ensure that there is adequate transportation available on site to evacuate all occupants?

We recently signed an agreement with our local transit authority, which includes a mechanism to support their ability to be paid through federal dollars and ultimately by the County for unreimbursed costs through other means. We also have great relationships with our school districts and assisted care facilities. Prior to COVID, we hosted a seminar each year to assist care facilities to meet their requirements. It included preparedness presentations including planning for evacuation. As a result some of these facilities have had discussions with each other to support each other with vans if evacuation is ever needed. One of the larger complexes was assessed with the assistance of the local fire agency and a qualified structure protection group supervisor to evaluate a defend in place strategy if required.

Q: At what point are social services organizations notified that there will be a need [to evacuate] and how do you work with them so they can set up where you want them – out of your way but where the people can get to?

Engaging social services organizations really depends on the situation. We work well with the Red Cross and know that the sooner we have a picture of what may be needed the quicker we can rally resources to start to reduce suffering. Each survivor’s context is different and connecting them with the right services early, without having to re-traumatize them is an important step to recovery. Expanding the capability for Disaster Case Management and human services support is happening at the local and state level and we hope this will aid in that.

Q: How have you integrated evacuation planning & readiness efforts with the work of planners, engineers, and others in your communities on providing adequate evacuation routes, managing growth patterns, and ensuring that adequate design standards are met or maintained when development decisions are being made? 

We collaborate with our city and county planning departments as they are active participants in Deschutes County’s Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan and CWPP processes. There are nuances in Oregon State Building Codes and local zoning that present some challenges, however this could change with future legislation. 

Q: Is all of this being funding with the regular tax base or are grants helping to support your efforts?

About one-third of our work is funded through the Emergency Management Performance Grant, which funds Emergency Management programs. Most of the rest of the work is funded through local funds. We have been fortunate to be supported by our Sheriff and the Board of County Commissioners.

Q: With regards to livestock evacuation, how are folks handling commercial scale ranching operations (50+ head)?

I think the best way to tackle this is to support these ranches with pre-planning. They know their operations best. Each ranch or operation is going to be different, but it is best if they think through some of these issues ahead of time. During the event, we try to support them with situational awareness and ensure fire operations know where they are and what they are doing as they are gathering animals and moving them out of the way. It has been my experience that ranchers and landowners are great allies and resources during these events and they are significantly impacted by loss of animals, grazing, and impact to water sources, fences and other infrastructure.

Q: Do you activate the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), and how does activation occur for your department?

For evacuation, we primarily use law enforcement for the door to door notifications, public works for traffic control and to assist staffing roadblocks, and Search and Rescue to do door-to-door after the initial door to doors are done. We do not have a significant CERT component yet in Deschutes County, but I would be interested to learn from others about how they use CERT in their communities! 

Q: Did you have a method to reach hikers/campers particularly in areas with poor cell service and dispersed camping with no camp host or other resources?

In the past, we have worked with air resources assigned to the fire to assess possible camps or people out in front of the fire. In the backcountry we have partnered with the Forest Service Wilderness Rangers, Law Enforcement, and Search and Rescue to sweep main trails to look for people. In more known camping areas (including dispersed areas) our Forest Service and BLM Deputies usually have a pretty good familiarity with the area. As it relates to areas where our unhoused community members may be living, we try to maintain good situational awareness of these and alert them in person about the potential danger. For this segment of our community, we are also working with homeless outreach coordinators to explore strategies for signing these community members up on the emergency notification system as possible. 

Thank you, Nathan, for taking the time to address some of the lingering questions! 

Part 2: Researchers!

During Part 2 of the evacuation webinar series, participants had the opportunity to hear from three different research teams. Karin Riley and Fang Fang presented about the geospatial evacuation study they completed in the Pacific Northwest, Shefali Lakhina shared her work detailing the intersection between COVID-19 and evacuation planning, and Amanda Stasiewicz and Travis Paveglio presented their findings about residents’ intended evacuation behaviors. 

Following the main presentation and panel discussion, webinar participants were able to engage in a small group discussion with the research team of their choosing. Many thanks to our research partners for their willingness to engage in a more participatory way during this webinar! While the small group discussions were not recorded, the main presentations and panel questions were and can be seen on the webinar

Links & Resources Shared: 

Other resources shared in the chat and breakout rooms by both presenters and participants included:

FAC Net is working to address a few of the questions which remain and we look forward to sharing an update later on the blog!

FAC Net knows the importance of continuing the conversations around the many aspects of evacuation and we are committed to forwarding that effort. Did you attend the webinar? If so, share something you learned or a question you still have below in the comments! 

* * * *