Preparing for wildfires and smoke

August 30, 2021

Dear campus community:

UC Berkeley encourages all departments, students, and employees to prepare for potential wildfire and smoke impacts. The campus has experienced unhealthy air quality resulting from wildfire smoke for the last several years and expects the risk may threaten our community again. We write today to share how the campus is preparing for wildfire smoke impacts and highlight actions you can take to be better prepared.

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Know your Zone workshops to help you make a fire weather plan
The City of Berkeley and counties throughout the Bay Area now use Zone Haven to help prepare for wildfire. Please visit to learn your household's evacuation zone - a label that responders will use during wildfires and other emergencies to rapidly identify specific areas under threat.
You'll see that zone label on evacuation warning orders should your zone be affected. In Berkeley, all zone labels start with "BER" such as BER-E044.

Additionally, the City of Berkeley has developed a helpful step-by-step guide to make a fire weather plan for your household ahead of time, to address unpredictable and rapidly changing fire conditions. We encourage you to use their tool and to attend one of their workshops on the topic. For more information, please go to their website.

Monitor Conditions
Air quality may change quickly depending on wildfire intenstiy and weather condirions. UC Berkeley has installed sensors at five major buildings across campus and also monitors the EPA AirNow "Current Air Quality." The nearest regulatory monitors are at Berkeley Aquatic Park, Laney College in Oakland, and on West Grand Avenue in Oakland. The on-campus sensors are located at Valley Life Sciences Building, Stanley Hall, University Hall, Lawrence Hall of Sciences, and Crossroads Dining Common. The Campus Air Quality Map updates air quality from these sources hourly.

Review Health Information
During smoke events, fine particulates suspended in the air are the main harmful pollutant. Breathing in smoke can have immediate effects, even to someone who is healthy. If you would like to know more about the symptoms visit the CDC's Wildfire Smoke web page. We encourage you to see your medical provider if you experience wildfire smoke-related symptoms. Note that the risk of COVID-19 complications can potentially increase with poor quality air.

Limit Exposure
When air quality worsens, minimize strenuous activity outdoors. The campus has posted a list of designated cleaner air facilities and buildings that have mechanical ventilation filtration systems that are effective at capturing the SARS-CoV-2 virus and reducing smoke indoors.

Specific actions to minimize exposure to wildfire smoke can be viewed from the University of California AQI-Based Decision-Making Matrix for Wildfire Smoke Events (Version 1.1).

Understand the difference between respirators and face coverings
Multilayered cloth face coverings slow the spread of COVID-19 but offer little protection against harmful air pollutants in wildfire smoke.

Use of particulate respirators such as N-95 respirators filter out some of the particulate matter and offer some protection from SARS CoV-2, but they do not filter all the harmful chemicals found in smoke. They can also increase the work of breathing, which can be harmful for people with significant underlying heart or lung conditions.  The campus offers respirators to not-fully vaccinated employees and, subject to availability, to all employees and students when AQI exceeds 150 due to wildfire smoke. It is recommended that you consult a medical provider before using an N-95.

Plan for potential power outagesLast year PG&E initiated a public safety power shutdown (PSPS) program regionally in the interest of public safety to reduce wildfire risk from transmission lines during severe dry, windy conditions. While the campus is generally able to avoid a complete power shutdown due to operation of our cogeneration plant, it is important for all operations to have a plan in place to reduce energy usage. Go to the PG&E PSPS website for more information and consider that employees working from home may be impacted even if campus operations are not.

Additional Information

For more information, useful links, and updated information see our Wildfire Smoke resource page.

Be well and stay safe!

Anna Harte, MD

Medical Director, University Health Services

Patrick Goff

Executive Director, Environment, Health and Safety

Alicia Johnson
Director, Office of Emergency Management