Making communities more resilient against disasters

Resilient measures into infrastructure design includes safety plans for evacuation against disaster as well as making buildings safer.

By Emad Ehsani February 14, 2022
Courtesy: Dewberry

In November 2018, the town of Paradise and many rural communities in Butte County, California, were devastated by an unprecedented wildfire. The Camp Fire was one of the deadliest, most destructive, and most expensive in California’s history; damaging more than 90% of the town’s infrastructure, including homes, businesses, utilities, and transportation systems. Caused by a failure of electrical transmission equipment on a day with high winds and dry fuels, most of the Camp Fire’s damage occurred in less than 18 hours from ignition.

Opportunities for a safer paradise: The road to recovery

As one of the first steps to recovery, the town reached out to residents by hosting online surveys, community workshops, and public meetings. Through this community engagement process, residents had an opportunity to reflect on the town’s strengths and weaknesses, along with opportunities for a stronger and safer Paradise.

Priorities included an evaluation of the town’s comprehensive street network to assess the need for sidewalks, wider roads, additional multi-use trails, and streetlights. As part of this effort, Paradise also began further study and master planning for early warning systems and evacuation routes, including identifying opportunities for enhancement of the road systems.

Making changes to transportation infrastructure

Utilizing available funding and outside partners, the town was able to expedite its Long-Term Community Recovery Plan. Due to our local presence in California and experience with disaster response and relief, including large transportation projects, we were among five teams selected to provide engineering services for rehabilitation of the town’s off-system roadway network.

We are assisting with one of the three off-system zones, consisting of approximately 20 miles of roadway pavement rehabilitation, including striping and curb ramp improvements to meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. The design requires the flexibility to meet an expedited schedule while coordinating other infrastructure improvements taking place in the community.

Applying more resilient designs to protect communities

It is inspiring to see the community excited and working together to rebuild Paradise. The goal is to construct new homes and businesses, and help build a stronger, more welcoming and safe Paradise. As we consider the frequency of fires now occurring throughout the West, we are reminded of how important it is to plan and incorporate resilient measures into infrastructure design. This includes focusing on safe evacuation routes to accommodate growing populations during an emergency and effective warning systems to allow time for communities to prepare. Though natural disasters will continue to occur close to home, we want our communities as safe as possible and able to thrive again.

Dewberry is a CFE Media and Technology content partner.

Original content can be found at

Author Bio: Emad Ehsani, PE project manager, Dewberry