Napa Valley Register: New software may speed up Napa County wildfire evacuations

May 14, 2021 by Register Staff

Napa Valley Community Foundation has invested $112,500 to help Napa County pay for a multi-year contract with Zonehaven, a Bay Area software company whose evacuation management platform promises to greatly improve the speed and clarity of communications for wildfire evacuation orders and warnings.

Currently, evacuation orders and warnings are issued through Nixle by referencing area roads and compass points. Napa County public safety officials believe subdividing the county into various zones will result in concise and comprehensible messaging during emergencies, NVCF said in a news release.

In addition, Zonehaven will enable the Sheriff’s Office to coordinate wildfire evacuation plans with other agencies, such as the Napa County Office of Emergency Services and Cal Fire.

Currently, the software is utilized in other North Bay counties, including Sonoma and Marin. Its adoption in Napa County will also facilitate regional coordination in multi-county wildfires.

Last fall, the LNU and Glass Fires collectively burned more than 370,000 acres in Napa County, destroyed over 600 homes, and highlighted the need to implement evacuation planning systems.

The Zonehaven Evacuation Management Platform will provide first responders and residents with immediate evacuation warnings and orders as they occur. The platform will help the Sheriff’s Office and other involved agencies make decisions about when to evacuate.

Zonehaven monitors vehicle traffic in real-time, assists in creating traffic control points, and identifies potential evacuation centers based on the flow of evacuating residents from various zones, the Foundation said. The software also provides an interface to facilitate wildfire modeling by incident commanders on the scene, as events are unfolding.

“During the devastating fires of 2020, a great deal of planning and coordination by multiple agencies were required to protect lives and property, which could have been aided by a singular emergency management software platform,” said Napa County Sheriff John Robertson.

“This investment by Napa Valley Community Foundation has never been more important and will allow us to implement the program in advance of next fire season and potentially save lives in future wildfires.”

“Zones relate to evacuation orders like ZIP codes relate to delivering the mail,” said NVCF Vice President of Community Impact Julia DeNatale. “We’re proud to be making this investment because it will reduce ambiguity about who needs to pack up and go when danger is approaching.”

Since March 2020, NVCF has distributed more than $7.5 million from the Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund to help local residents recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 wildfires. The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation invested alongside NVCF in the purchase of the Zonehaven platform for Napa County.

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