San Mateo County residents will soon benefit from a new online management tool to help them evacuate in wildfires, tsunamis and other disasters.
The cloud-based, online management platform, which is being supplied by San Francisco-based Zonehaven, is designed to give first responders and the public immediate evacuation information. The new platform allows fire and law-enforcement agencies to create "intelligent" evacuation zones so each agency can make decisions regarding when to evacuate and which zones to evacuate while monitoring evacuation-route traffic in real time.
The online tool also allows the public to see if their zone is being evacuated and which routes they can safely use. The Zonehaven platform is scheduled to launch this summer.
Fire agencies fear that a large, wind-driven fire similar to ones in the northern part of the state could hit San Mateo County, Deputy Fire Chief Jonathan Cox of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) San Mateo County, said in a video statement about the online platform. The Zonehaven tool is the first of its kind and the first of its kind to be deployed in the Bay Area, he added.
“During a wildfire we need to make quick decisions about evacuations. This new platform is a game-changer. It will empower us to get evacuation orders to the public quicker, and more importantly it will provide live evacuation information to the public we serve,” Cox said in a joint written statement with the county of San Mateo.
The platform creates a Google-type map on which it places colored zones that can expand and contract based on the disaster risk. In real-time mode, it runs rapid simulations providing one-, three- and five-hour recommended evacuation sequences.
It also has a sensor component for continuous fire detection and recommendations regarding fire spread based on wind direction and speed, moisture and other variables, according to the company website.
The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors approved the three-year contract for Zonehaven's technology on May 19. Supervisors Don Horsley and David Canepa, local emergency response officials and the San Mateo County Office of Sustainability initiated the project. Horsley and Canepa committed $294,000 in district-discretionary funds from Measure K, the voter-approved half-cent sales tax, according to the press release.
Horsley spearheaded developing a countywide solution after he recognized in 2019 that the county lacked standardized and comprehensive evacuation planning and management. Emergency response agencies throughout the county have since spent hundreds of hours developing strategic, standardized emergency evacuation zones.
“This new evacuation platform ensures all of our emergency responders throughout the county have the ability to quickly and efficiently call for evacuations. This is particularly crucial for our coastside residents, who have limited access points along Highway 1,” Horsley said in the statement.
Canepa noted that widespread wildfires, such as those in Northern California, have shown the need for such a plan.
“As we’ve seen in recent years, disasters know no jurisdictional boundaries, therefore planning and response is a team sport," he added in part in the joint statement.
The San Mateo County Office of Sustainability will help with public outreach about Zonehaven and to raise awareness of fire and other climate risks in the county. A video about the Zonehaven evacuation platform is available here.