Berkeley Lab to hold mass evacuation drill Tuesday

A rapid mass evacuation drill is slated for Tuesday, Dec. 19, at the Berkeley Lab, starting at 2:30 p.m. Photo: Berkeley Lab

Berkeley Lab plans to hold a wildfire evacuation drill on Tuesday afternoon, which will likely see thousands of employees on the move. Local traffic may be affected.

In an alert sent out by phone and text message Monday, 24 hours prior to the rapid mass evacuation drill, Alameda County reported that the drill will start at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday. It will involve all Lab personnel.

“There may be some increased vehicle traffic on roads leading away from the Lab,” the AC alert reads, “and Hearst will be blocked for east-bound traffic at Highland to allow for pedestrian safety.”

A detailed notification posted by Berkeley Lab on its website explains that the drill was prompted by the recent wildfires in the North Bay. “…The ability to safely evacuate an impacted area in a time-sensitive manner is critically important,” the Lab said. “With the scenario of an encroaching wildfire, this drill is designed to test how quickly we can evacuate and/or shelter in place at the Lab in a safe manner. The drill will also be used to identify potential issues that may hamper a rapid mass evacuation,” it said.

Berkeley Lab said Hearst Avenue will be blocked for eastbound to traffic at Highland Place for pedestrian access during a scheduled evacuation on Dec. 19 starting at 2:30 p.m.. Image: Google Maps

Depending on which designated zone a Lab employee works in, they are instructed to leave by foot, bike or car and to assemble in pre-determined locations. Some are being told to shelter in place.

Berkeley Lab, part of the U.S. Department of Energy but managed by the University of California, occupies a 202-acre site in the Berkeley Hills. According to its website, it employs approximately 3,232 scientists, engineers and support staff.

Lab employees have different evacuation instructions depending on which zone they work in. Map: Berkeley Lab

A red flag warning, signaling high fire risk, was issued Friday for the East Bay and was in effect through Sunday. Authorities urged “extreme caution, especially in the hills,” due to a treacherous combination of high winds and low humidity.

The last time crews responded to wildfires locally was this summer after a 24-year-old Concord man started a fire on Aug. 2. The fire quickly developed into several fires and scorched 20 acres in the East Bay hills before being extinguished. Some parts of the campus were asked to evacuate as a precautionary measure.