In collaboration with local governments, public safety agencies, emergency responders, transportation agencies and other key stakeholders, the OVFSC and a consulting team will conduct a Wildfire Evacuation/Transit System Vulnerability Assessment to help understand current capacities and vulnerabilities to safely and efficiently manage local residents in the event of wildfire emergencies that are likely to increase in scale, severity and frequency due to climate change. Specifically, the assessment will identify: (1) features and components of the transportation network that is vulnerable to wildfires and associated land/mudslides, (2) current capacities for total/partial evacuation (3) vulnerable groups and associated needs, (4) the needs and performance criteria for temporary refuge areas, evacuation centers and/or shelter-in-place facilities, (5) necessary improvements to the transportation networks and/or controls for emergency access and egress, (6) emergency communication strategies, (7) public engagement strategies and (8) action items for improving planning and preparedness projects.
Recommendations for improvement will aim to not only mitigate risks and/or increase resiliency to future wildfire threats but also have co-benefits to social equity, public safety, health and sustainability (i.e., green/nature-based solutions and/or bottom-up initiatives to increase community engagement and ownership). The results will be integrated into the Ojai Valley Community Wildfire Protection Plan. and can also be used by local jurisdictions when updating their General Plans, the Ventura County CWPP, and the Regional Transportation Plan, as well as, identify gaps in government services that can be fulfilled by Civil Society groups such as the OVFSC, CERT, Red Cross, Ventura County Resource Conservation District, etc.
Recent fires in the region and state have highlighted how important it is to manage people safely and efficiently in an emergency wildfire event, but also, the need to develop more holistic, integrated, bottom-up initiatives that work for the “whole” community. Transportation infrastructure plays a critical role in not only permitting the safe and timely egress of people to a place of relative safety, but also in allowing first responders access to undertake critical operations (e.g. firefighting, search and rescue, medical aid) in a severe wildfire event. Transportation infrastructure is also a critical component post-disaster for economic recovery, reconstruction, supply chain function, repopulation and social connectivity. However, when the transportation systems, local government agencies and citizens lack the capacities or resiliency to safely and swiftly evacuate or are vulnerable to being blocked and/or damaged due to a wildfire, the potential risk of major losses can be devastating. This is particularly important in the Ojai Valley where the local communities (~20,000 residents) are surrounded by steep mountains with limited egress and ingress via three major roads. Due to the steep terrain, natural dense vegetative fuels and local fire environment, these limited road lifelines can be easily blocked, damaged and/or congested due to a wildfire emergency, ultimately putting thousands of lives at risk. Developing a resilient and adaptive plan for managing evacuation and/or combined evacuation/shelter-in-place strategy is also a critical component for mitigating potential disasters.