Saving lives in wildfire disasters with GPS data
November 3, 2022
Every year the threat of wildfire dramatically increases. This increase in wildfire intensity, frequency and resulting social harm is largely connected to climate change as well as suburban and exurban growth in wildland areas.
Our research team is working to improve wildfire life-safety and enhance the resilience of exposed communities by investigating how the public responds during wildfire disasters, and in particular how they make decisions regarding if/when they will evacuate, where they will go to reach safety, and which route they will take. One of the biggest obstacles to understanding wildfire evacuation behavior is a lack of data on household response during fire events.
Traditionally, data on household evacuation in wildfires has been collected using methods like surveys, interviews, and focus groups. Although these methods have generated many insights into evacuation behavior, they have primarily focused on understanding the evacuation decision, itself: i.e., whether people will evacuate or not. A limited number of wildfire studies focus on the travel-related evacuation decisions, such as household departure time and routing, likely because of the difficulty in gathering accurate data using survey methods. As these methods rely on evacuees to recall their actions months or even years after the events, specific and accurate details involving timing or actual routes can be difficult to obtain due to the burden and inherent complexity in asking respondents to describe the spatial and temporal trip-dimensions during the fire event.