Town of Truckee employs fire evacuation planning software

An example of evacuation route planning from the Sierra Sun office.

TRUCKEE, Calif. — For the last few summers, major wildfires have burned in communities surrounding Truckee. Each time there is a threat of wildfire, many residents and visitors want to know what the evacuation plan is. 

Planning evacuation routes in advance can be difficult. It depends on where the fire starts, what direction it’s moving, what fuels are in its path, what direction the wind is blowing and many other factors. 

With the help of the Town of Truckee, several Nevada County locals have developed software that can take most of the guesswork out of evacuation route planning. 

Ladris Enterprise AI was developed by former Nevada Union High School students Bowen Kyle and Leo Zlimen, as well as Zlimen’s father. Like many tech start-ups, it was born in Kyle and Zlimen’s dorm room at UC Berkeley. 

“Evacuation is really a problem that A.I. is well-suited for solving but is also, objectively, a good thing for people, it can help save their lives, which is a cause we’re passionate about and glad we can be be a part of,” Zlimen said. 

According to Zlimen, there are three components — data in, data modeling and data out. 

“At a high level, what our software does is it takes a lot of very messy, disparate data from a bunch of different places and different formats, think videos, images, text, it brings it all together and lets the end user visualize, model, create reports, get information out of the mass of data,” Zlimen said. 

So, in terms of evacuations, users can input information about the area such as the road network, infrastructure, weather conditions, how many cars and people could be on the road, etc. 

“If you are a middle market company or local government, anybody without a $50 million analytics budget and you can’t go out there and hire PhD scientists to run experiments, you need software that’s really usable and allows you to run the same kind of models but in a way that is really more focused on leveraging your expertise to solve the problem that you know,” Zlimen said. 

Emergency Services Coordinator for the Town of Truckee Robert Womack helped test the software and has used it to play out scenarios for the town.

“It figures out how many cars can fit on a road, what the optimal speeds are and when you figure all that out, then it can figure out how long it can take to clear a certain area,” Womack said. The data can be adjusted to account for 100% of people evacuating, which never really happens or a certain percentage of people evacuating.

Womack said there are other programs that do similar things but he said Ladris is more customizable and can run more scenarios. 

Truckee is limited in evacuation routes so they are using the software to determine how much lead time an area needs to evacuate. 

There is still some guess work involved in planning. The town has to determine what the occupancy of an area is, for example Tahoe Donner usually is 30% occupied but during mid-summer, it can get up to 60% occupation. Even then, they don’t know how many cars are at each residence. 

“Evacuation times for 3,000 cars, which is 30% occupancy, versus 9,000 cars for 60% of occupancy is vastly different,” Womack said.

The town council recently approved an automated license plate reader pilot program which will place cameras around the town. Womack said in addition to helping solve crimes, those cameras can be used to count how many cars are coming and going from an area. There has also been a focused communication strategy during emergencies to tell people to consolidate into one or two cars, versus taking every single car at a residence. 

For now, they plan for the worst case scenario, which would be every car evacuating. 

Truckee hasn’t yet had to use the software but during the Mosquito Fire, Womack and the Emergency Services team used Ladris to start planning in case the fire did reach Truckee. 

While the technology is primarily used for evacuation planning, it can also be used preemptively for city planning. Zlimen gives the example of a new road being built out of Tahoe Donner. The software could be used to look at what that will do for traffic patterns and if it would help or hinder in the case of an emergency. 

Womack said it’s also been used to prioritize vegetation management dollars to preemptively clear roads that are mostly likely to be used in an evacuation. 

Ladris has contracts with agencies all over the West Coast but Zlimen is grateful that the company got its start with his local agencies. Nevada County and the Town of Truckee both have contracts with Ladris.

“It’s a nice story for us because we have benefited immensely from being part of this local community here … we’re happy that it has come full circle. We had all these opportunities and the ability to make these things because of the people we were around and the education we had growing up here and we’re happy we can give some of it back,” Zlimen said. 

Zlimen also added that the Sierra Business Council was crucial in helping Ladris get off the ground.

Nevada County has a public access portal for residents, although it doesn’t allow them to input data, it can mostly be used to look at all the potential evacuation routes. Visit the Ready Nevada County Dashboard to see the software in use. 

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