Mill Valley teams up with Google researchers for large-scale evacuation drill

More than 500 volunteers living in Mill Valley got up early Saturday morning to participate in what the city's mayor called "groundbreaking research", to figure out exactly how fast the city can evacuate its main roads in the event of a fire emergency.

The city of Mill Valley partnered with a team of Google researchers that have been studying evacuation modeling in Mill Valley which is a high fire risk area that sits in a narrow valley, leaving it prone to traffic congestion if there was a need for hundreds of cars to evacuate.

"We have friends who live up on the mountain, and I think it's very tortuous to come down, so I'm glad that they practiced because it's kind of scary," Elizabeth O'Donnell, a Mill Valley resident said.

Around 8:30 Saturday morning, close to 500 volunteers and 30-40 emergency personnel lined up their cars in preparation for the evacuation drill.

"We actually created a traffic jam, something easy to do throughout the Bay Area, we did it on purpose," John McCauley, Mill Valley's mayor, said. "Once we had all the cars in line, these were all volunteers, hundreds and hundreds of residents, we released them into the park area and the result were terrific. We found that it was much faster than we thought, which proves our concept."

The goal was to time how quickly a large number of cars could evacuate the main roads. The city used local parks and middle schools as points of refuge for vehicles trying to leave town, which would allow cars to get onto the freeway faster.

McCauley says the completion time is still being calculated, but its' safe to say the cars cleared a significant number of main roads within ten minutes.

"That tells us that the concept works, and we can now plug it into the simulation, and find the sweet spot, like how quickly do we move the cars from one location to another," McCauley said, adding that Google researchers are in charge of the simulation, and will further analyze the findings from Saturday's drill.

Around town, Mill Valley residents say they've got go-bags at the ready, and even have a creative car-free solution to avoid gridlock in the event of an evacuation.

"Because when there's a fire, all these roads are going to be backed up completely," Paul Howe, a Mill Valley father said. "That's why we're taking our bikes."