North Orinda Helped Refine Evacuation Procedures During January Drill


    On Jan. 26, from 7 – 8 a.m., the lower part of Miner Rd. became a one-way street as residents left their homes and proceeded to Hwy. 24 as part of an evacuation drill conducted by the Moraga Orinda Fire Department (MOFD).
MOFD, which partnered with the Orinda and Moraga Police Departments and Lamorinda CERT members for the Jan. 26 drill, plans to use information derived from the event to refine evacuation plans.
    “We asked residents of Sleepy Hollow, Dalewood (Orinda Downs) and Upper Miner to participate by first signing up for the Community Warning System (CWS),” explains MOFD Fire Chief Dave Winnacker. “Participants received a call in the early morning of Jan. 26 telling them to evacuate. We asked participants to then move from their homes, follow traffic laws, and proceed down to the Lombardy/Miner split. At that point, Miner Rd. became contra flow, meaning both lanes were used for west bound traffic. Participants then continued down Miner to Camino Pablo, turned left and proceeded to Hwy. 24. Once they were on the highway, their part of the exercise was over.”
    Lamorinda CERT members stationed along Miner Rd. controlled traffic and directed the use of the contra flow traffic at the Lombardy/Miner split. Observers, posted along the route, recorded time and the number of vehicles while identifying areas subject to congestion. Participants received an email poll later that day to collect feedback on the exercise.
    While participants evacuated down Miner Rd., fire apparatus entered the fire zone utilizing other routes. “MOFD uses a traffic separation scheme. When people are in a car and see smoke and embers, they can do erratic things, so you don’t want a fire engine responding to a Code 3 on the same road,” says Chief Winnacker. “We have maps showing the various areas and which roads could be used for evacuation and which could be used for fire apparatus egress.”
    In the Moraga drill, which took place Dec. 15, the evacuation route was Moraga Way with Moraga Rd. becoming the means for equipment and personnel to reach the “fire” scene.
    Chief Winnacker notes that MOFD learned different things from the Orinda drill. In the Moraga drill, MOFD had partnered with the Moraga Country Club, which had a well-trained staff to provide assistance. It had also used the vacated OSH store as a temporary refugee area (TRA).
    North Orinda, however, didn’t have an organized entity with which to partner nor was there an ideal TRA.
    “The OSH store was a perfect TRA,” Winnacker explains. “It’s empty and a sprinklered building with exterior under-eve sprinklers around the entire building. It also has concrete brick walls that do not burn, and it’s surrounded by acres of parking lot, which also doesn’t burn. You can get lots of people in there and station a fire engine to defend that building. There isn’t anything like that in North Orinda.”
    According to Chief Winnacker, TRAs become very important as evacuation routes reach capacity. A computer model keeps track of vehicles on various routes and notifies incident commanders when particular evacuation routes will reach capacity, allowing the commanders time to stop evacuations before gridlock occurs. They then can also order residents to either shelter in place or go to a TRA. Called an Evacuation Decision Support Tool, the program allows an incident commander to see where problems may occur and craft a solution before complications make a safe response unviable.
    Chief Winnacker doesn’t plan on having any additional evacuation drills in Lamorinda. “These two drills have validated our assumptions on contra flow traffic techniques and built our experience level. We’ll capture every ounce of data, enter it into our computer models and continue to refine and update our evacuation plan. Then we’ll publish that for the community.”
    Unlike the fires in Sonoma and Napa Counties, which often have many tourists visiting the area, Lamorinda has a stable population. “The people here are amazing,” says Chief Winnacker. “They are highly engaged and want to do something to help. What we owe them is a comprehensive plan that harnesses their interest and converts it into an understanding of what that plan looks like.”
    In order to prepare for a potential fire disaster, Chief Winnacker asks all Orindans to sign up for the CWS program to receive notifications. He hopes that the CWS program in addition to text, voice and email messages will reach the majority of local residents in the event of a disaster. He also requests that residents take as few cars as possible during an evacuation to keep from clogging up escape routes. He further stresses that residents should have a “go bag” ready with clothing and medications for three days to facilitate quickly leaving their homes.
    To lessen fire danger in the first place, Chief Winnacker recommends clearing dead and dying trees and dry brush on your property as well as moving wood piles away from the house. He further encourages talking with neighbors to have them do the same, which would essentially create a fire break.
    “People can call us, and we’ll come out and evaluate their property. We have 14,000 parcels in the district and only a small number are compliant with fire safety measures,” Winnacker says.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.