October 11, 2023
City officials announced today an important study on evacuation planning that stems from a groundbreaking partnership with Google Research to prepare for escalating wildfire threats.
“We know that wildfire is a substantial risk to Mill Valley, both in property damage and possible loss of life,” said former Mayor John McCauley, who led the effort. “With our partnership with Google Research, Mill Valley is harnessing cutting-edge simulations to tackle the issue head-on.”
"The Mill Valley evacuation study underscores the importance of collaboration between technology and local communities,” said John Anderson, research scientist at Google Research. “We're grateful for the opportunity to work alongside city officials, applying our research to enhance emergency response strategies and protect residents in times of crisis."
The study’s findings demonstrated the remarkable impact of directing evacuees towards a less-frequented on-ramp at Hamilton Drive, slashing evacuation time by almost 2 hours. Additionally, researchers found that encouraging residents to evacuate with only one vehicle significantly expedited the process, prompting City officials to revamp evacuation routes, strategically maximizing ramp utilization and reducing overall evacuation time.
“This new plan makes Mill Valley safer, and we ask that residents take only one car and grab a neighbor if you can,” McCauley continued. “Our key message is: Take one car, save the lives of those behind you.”
The study's findings will be presented live and via webcast at the Mill Valley City Council meeting on Monday, October 16, 2023, at 5:30 pm.
Researchers took a comprehensive approach to the simulation, encompassing 11,400 households spanning Mill Valley and Marin County, all located to the west of Highway 101. The study explored a range of evacuation scenarios, involving 11,400 to 22,800 vehicles, while making use of real road data and accounting for actual traffic interactions. The simulation assumed that the majority of cars would be in motion within the initial 45 minutes of an evacuation, with the simulation ending for each vehicle after it enters one of the on ramps and progresses on Highway 101.
The City also explored using Community Refuge Areas (CRAs), including Bayfront Park and Tamalpais High School, for vehicle evacuation during emergencies. Defined by minimal vegetation and expanses of paved or well-irrigated, manicured grass, CRAs offer residents a safer waiting area as a wildfire progresses. For instance, Bayfront Park and the baseball and football fields at Tamalpais High School can together accommodate approximately 4,000 closely-parked vehicles, allowing for quicker relocation from hillside areas to the safer, lower sections of Mill Valley.
“We want to thank Google Research for their partnership on this significant project,” City Manager Todd Cusimano said. “As wildfire risks continue to rise due to extreme drought and weather events, these evacuation planning insights are vital to safeguard Mill Valley residents.”