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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Understanding California Wildfire Evacuee Behavior and Joint Choice-Making

  • Author(s): Wong, Stephen D.
  • Broader, Jacquelyn C
  • Walker, Joan L., PhD
  • Shaheen, Susan A., PhD
  • et al.

For evacuations, people must make the critical decision to evacuate or stay followed by a multi-dimensional choice composed of concurrent decisions of their departure time, transportation mode, route, destination, and shelter type. These choices have important impacts on transportation response and evacuation outcomes. While extensive research has been conducted on hurricane evacuation behavior, little is known about wildfire evacuation behavior. To address this critical research gap, particularly related to joint choice-making in wildfires, we surveyed individuals impacted by the 2017 December Southern California Wildfires (n=226) and the 2018 Carr Wildfire (n=284). Using these data, we contribute to the literature in two key ways. First, we develop two simple binary choice models to evaluate and compare the factors that influence the decision to evacuate or stay. Mandatory evacuation orders and higher risk perceptions both increased evacuation likelihood. Individuals with children and with higher education were more likely to evacuate, while individuals with pets, homeowners, low-income households, long-term residents, and prior evacuees were less likely to evacuate. Second, we develop two portfolio choice models (PCMs), which jointly model choice dimensions to assess multi-dimensional evacuation choice. We find several similarities between wildfires including a joint preference for within-county and nighttime evacuations and a joint dislike for within-county and highway evacuations. To help build a transportation toolkit for wildfires, we provide a series of evidence-based recommendations for local, regional, and state agencies. For example, agencies should focus congestion reducing responses at the neighborhood level within or close to the mandatory evacuation zone.

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