Advancing the Vulnerability Characterization of California Roadways to Wildfires

Research Team: PI: Mikhail Chester Team:

About this project:

This project will develop vulnerability and adaptation assessments of roadway infrastructure to wildfires and post-fire debris flows for California. In doing so, it will create a first-of-its-kind probabilistic assessment of roadway infrastructure fire risk that considers not only the likelihood of additional fires across the state, but also precipitation and the characteristics of watersheds that ultimately lead to debris flows that impact stormwater management systems of roadways. The vulnerability assessment will combine emerging datasets for climate change hazards (specifically downscaled fire and precipitation), transportation infrastructure (including all functional classes of roadways, their service levels, and the network topology including betweenness), and watershed characteristics (including ruggedness, soils, and area). The information will be combined using existing probabilistic measures for post-fire debris flows with transportation infrastructure characteristics. The result will be a statewide spatial assessment of roadway vulnerability and clear direction as to which roadway stormwater assets and surrounding areas pose the greatest risk. With these results an adaptation assessment will be developed that considers a suite of regimes (Woods, 2015) from hardening and strengthening to safe-to-fail (Kim et al., 2019). A Technical Advisory Committee will be formed that includes academics, government, and non-government representatives that will steer the work and hopefully see the results made widely available and put into practice.

What problem does this research aim to address?

Wildfires and post-fire debris flows have had severe impacts on California’s transportation system recently, and climate forecasts show that these hazards are likely to become more of a concern in the future. Yet our understanding of the vulnerability of transportation systems to wildfires is in its nascent stages, with focus largely on evacuation logistics and characterizing where risks of fire are increasing and which infrastructure are co-located. Wildfire risk is much more complex as post-fire precipitation events create conditions where roadway stormwater management is failed often leaving remote communities disconnected. There is an opportunity to improve our understanding of the vulnerability of transportation systems and associated adaptation strategies to ensure that services continue to be delivered in the face of growing hazards. This problem is not specific to California as wildfires across the Southwest are becoming more problematic. Furthermore, as development continues, the urban-wildland interface is changing, creating serious questions about how people and services are protected during extreme events. Advancing transportation vulnerability assessment to more critically examine the complexities in natural systems and their interfaces with human built systems represents an important frontier for research and science, with implications in California, the Southwest, the US, and internationally.

What are the expected impacts and benefits of the research?

In addition to the final report and policy brief, results will include a journal publication, project website including GIS files for public consumption and linking, and outreach video that describes the work and its significance, and a classroom module for a transportation or planning class that includes slides and an exercise designed to teach student about vulnerability mitigation.

Final Report, Policy Brief, and Journal Publication
The final report will describe the background problem, innovative approach for addressing the problem, scalability and applicability to other areas, significant findings, and impacts for transportation planning and engineering. As with any academic project, a peer-reviewed journal publication will also be produced. At least one policy brief will also be produced but during the course of the project if multiple stakeholders emerge with differing perspectives on the problem then policy briefs will be developed for each.

Consortium on Transportation and Wildfires
During the work the investigator will establish long-term partnerships across several programs at UCLA, at other universities in California, and with public and private agencies working at the intersection wildfires and transportation infrastructure. In particular, partnerships with the Nature Conservancy, National Weather Service, Cal Fire and US Forest Service will be established, and conversations across the partners will be fostered through a Technical Advisory Committee that will be convened virtually twice during the project timeline.

Dissemination of Results and Data
Making research results accessible is a necessary requirement of any research projects and Web 2.0 protocols will be used to ensure broad availability of the final data. In addition to a standalone project webpage, the final data will be visualized in GIS formats and distributed to various data services including UCLA ITS, Cal-Adapt, Cal Fire Caltrans GIS Library, California Open Data Portal, and other California, Southwest, and national data portals where interested. The results will be presented at conferences and to state agencies.

Outreach and Classroom Module
The project results will produce valuable insights that should be made accessible to the next generation of transportation planners and engineers. As such, a classroom module will be develop and made available via the web for faculty to integrate the findings into their teachings. This will include a video presentation of the work, lecture slides, and a classroom exercise. The exercise will be focused on teaching students how to assess vulnerability and the efficacy of different resilience strategies to address these vulnerabilities.


By |October 3, 2019|Categories: Sustainable & Resilient Transportation
By |2019-10-03T17:13:08-07:00October 3rd, 2019|