Understanding evacuation from wildfires

September 16, 2019

Over the last year, Movement Strategies has made an increased effort to derive and share research findings from its ongoing innovative practice. In addition, we have collaborated with research partners to conduct dedicated research activities.

These twin efforts have been to ensure that our practice evolves and that our expertise in pedestrian dynamics has the best opportunity to affect general practice and, in turn, public safety.

In a series of articles, we will look at different areas of our involvement in R&D projects. Our focus here is on projects relating to evacuation from wildfires. 

We are working with UK, US, Canadian, and European partners to develop a freely available platform to simulate the evacuation of residential communities from wildfire. This involves the traffic, pedestrian and fire components. This will enable emergency responders and planners to inform community design and emergency response by testing the impact of procedural and community designs on performance. Current approaches are either partial (do not address all of these elements) or are only commercially available. We recently travelled to the US to observe a community exercise in Colorado where a community was evacuated in response to a hypothetical wildfire scenario. Our staff helped collect and analyse data on the resident response and arrival profiles (see below). This data will be published as a journal article and used as a case study for demonstrating the simulation platform.  

In parallel, we have been working with the Canadian government to develop guidance on planning communities that might be susceptible to wildfires. Such government guidance in Canada does not currently exist. Such an omission became an even greater concern after the Fort McMurray fire of 2016. Our responsibility, in conjunction with numerous North American partners, has been to help develop guidance on community planning and evacuation. Along with model development and data generation, affecting regulations and guidance is a key impact of research on engineering practice. Such guidance should help improve community preparation in the future for what is a growing threat.

Three articles have also been published this year regarding wildfire evacuations reflecting our ongoing work:

  • Intini, P, Ronchi, E, Gwynne, S and Pel, S, Traffic Modeling for Wildland–Urban Interface Fire Evacuation, J. Transp. Eng., Part A: Systems, 2019, 145(3): 04019002.
  • Ronchi, E, Gwynne, SMV, Rein, G, Intini, P and Wadhwani, R, An open multi-physics framework for modelling wildland-urban interface fire evacuations, Safety Science, Volume 118, October 2019, pp 868-880.
  • Gwynne, SMV, Ronchi, R, Bénichou,N, Kinateder, M, Kuligowski, ED, Gomaa, I and Adelzadeh, M, Modeling and mapping dynamic vulnerability to better assess WUI evacuation performance, Fire and Materials, https://doi.org/10.1002/fam.2708, 2019.

The articles join our other research outputs (e.g. regulatory guidance, seminar material, data storage structures, etc.), that will be discussed, along with other research topics, in subsequent newsletter pieces.

If you’re interested in learning more about our work in evacuation from wildfire, please contact Dr Steve Gwynne.