February 24, 2021 -The Nevada County Office of Emergency Services (Nevada County OES) is excited to announce a new pilot project for countywide zone-based evacuation planning that is now underway. This unprecedented local initiative involves the collaboration of all the County’s law enforcement and fire departments, as well as CAL FIRE, California Highway Patrol (CHP), California State Parks, the US Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The concept of this project involves breaking the County into designated geographic zones based on a variety of factors that could affect residents’ ability to safely evacuate during an emergency incident. Factors such as population density of a given area, topography, and the number of escape routes out of neighborhoods are just a few examples of the data that was taken into consideration when building out these local evacuation zones. Utilizing pre-built evacuation zones, emergency managers will be able to quickly determine the areas needing to be evacuated or warned and then share that message with impacted residents. A system such as this will reduce valuable time spent examining maps and drawing up evacuation zones on the fly during incidents that are typically quite chaotic at their outset.

Through a robust “Know-Your-Zone” public awareness campaign, the County’s Office of Emergency Services, with the aid of its partners such as the Coalition of Firewise Communities and the Firesafe Council of Nevada County, will seek to educate the public and raise awareness about the zones in which people live and work in Nevada County. An understanding of these boundaries will help to provide clarity as to whether someone is under an evacuation order or warning.

Nevada County’s law enforcement leaders and fire partners all agree that more can and should be done to prepare residents for emergency evacuations on a large scale. This latest project is yet another step in that direction. To assist with this project, the County has partnered with Zonehaven, a private software developer specializing in zone-based evacuation planning.

Zonehaven has created a unique online evacuation zone mapping and information platform, much like what Nevada County OES used during the Jones Fire, to keep residents apprised of developing information. Through a 2-year grant award from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Zonehaven is now able to work with public safety professionals here in Nevada County to develop standardized evacuation plans for each zone encompassing the entire County.

Over the course of the next few months, Nevada County OES will coordinate with all local law enforcement and fire departments, as well as CAL FIRE, California State Parks, CHP, the US Forest Service and BLM, to review over 200 pre-built evacuation zones covering the entire county. This review process will involve confirming the size and coverage areas of the zones, along with infusing hyper local knowledge and information, such as critical infrastructure locations and traffic bottlenecks, into the individual evacuation zones. Once this process is complete, these mapped areas will be made publicly available online through the County’s Ready Nevada County Dashboard. In the event of an emergency incident requiring evacuations, local law enforcement will utilize the Zonehaven platform to initiate evacuations and, along with CodeRED Emergency Alerts, aid in messaging the public.

The zone review phase of the project is expected to last between eight and fifteen weeks and Nevada County OES hopes to implement and share this new system with residents by early summer, before the typical seasonal increases in fire activity.