UC Berkeley, city working to further develop wildfire evacuation plans

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The city of Berkeley is developing an evacuation plan, which will include a component that specifically addresses wildfire evacuations.

The wildfire evacuation plan, which will be a part of the city’s overall evacuation plan, is currently being written by Berkeley’s Office of Emergency Services and will focus on assessing potential fire hazards and relaying information to residents in the case of a wildfire. One critical part of the plan is, according to Berkeley Fire Department Assistant Chief Keith May, ensuring that residents will be notified of evacuations as quickly as possible.

“We had large fires in both 2017 and 2018, and what we saw in 2017 was that they weren’t able to get their message out quickly, and the same went for the 2018 fires,” May said. “We don’t have a huge staff, but the best way to get to the people in the community is through AC Alert. We can send out notifications to residents and make sure they have enough time to evacuate.”

AC Alert, the city’s emergency notification system, will be an integral component of any evacuation plans in Berkeley, according to May, and will be the primary way residents will receive information during emergencies. The city will also use other methods, including direct phone calls, text messages and radio notifications on 1610 AM in the event of an emergency.

May added that the city is looking into funding for an outdoor alert system similar to the sirens that are used for tornado warnings. This system, according to May, would have an alarm to notify residents of the emergency, followed by an audio message that would provide directions on which areas to avoid and how to evacuate.

In addition to the city evacuation plan, UC Berkeley also has its own emergency evacuation plans and procedures. But the campus still works closely with the city to organize student evacuations, according to Alicia Johnson, director of the UC Berkeley Office of Emergency Management.

“We are developing an integrative evacuation plan for the parts of campus most vulnerable to an immediate wildfire threat, including the Hill Campus,” Johnson said in an email. “We work directly with the City of Berkeley to coordinate any and all evacuation requests and needs, including those that directly impact Berkeley students, staff and faculty members.”

Information for evacuation procedures can be found on the city’s website, and it is recommended that residents keep a prepared go bag and identify two potential routes of evacuation. May added that in the case of an emergency, the city would notify residents about where they should assemble if there is no clear evacuation route.

Contact Aditya Katewa at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @adkatewa1.