In the aftermath of the 2017 Tubbs Fire, which destroyed Southern Marin Fire District Deputy Chief Tom Welch’s home in Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood – and frankly a seemingly endless stream of horribly destructive fires ever since – City of Mill Valley officials have been on higher wildfire alert than ever. Specifically, they’re trying to answer the question, “what would happen if we all tried to evacuate by car at the same time?”
They’ve collaborated with the Google Research group, whose members agreed to build a simulation – a “massive model” – of the City of Mill Valley’s 6,000 households and those in its surrounding unincorporated areas, “down to the street level, making some assumptions about how cars leave in an evacuation,” according to Mayor John McCauley. The goal is to develop a data-driven evacuation plan that innovates beyond the significant constraint of having only two main arteries, East Blithedale and Miller avenues.
That plan gets a test run on Sept. 25, as the city hosts its annual Evacuation Drill on a broad scale, specifically focused on getting as many as 250 cars queued up on East Blithedale Avenue to test the speed of quickly releasing them onto Camino Alto and then Bayfront Park, identified as “a Community Refuge Area.” The idea mirrors a grocery store, for instance, opening additional checkout lanes during busy times, to get cars off the main road and into large parking lots and safe open spaces, thus allowing cars stuck in evacuation gridlock up in the hills to get out.
The drill is anticipated to take 90 minutes, during which city officials and first responders hope to identify problematic intersections and additional ways to speed up an evacuation. McCauley urged residents who aren’t participating in the drill to avoid East Blithedale on the morning of Sept. 25 to avoid getting stuck in the drill backup.