Community Does Not Burn Down

I am a native of Colorado. Born and bred on wildfires, flash floods and the occasional winter blizzard. Far different than the pesky hazards that plague the Bay Area. I’ve seen shelves empty from seven weeks of winter storms that delayed trucks hauling loads of groceries. I’ve seen avalanches from heavy, wet snows and landslides from nature-less burn scars. The first natural hazard I remember facing was a flash flood in my neighborhood. I remember once the waters had crested walking outside to see the river flowing, hell-bent, down the street. I also remember my father cursing up a storm because our crawlspace was flooded and muddy.

Even now, I remember the neighborhood banding together to protect those among us who might be in danger or need some assistance. So, in a certain way, I grew up understanding resilience and how community plays an innate role in recovery.

In the last few weeks, you’ve no doubt heard about the many fires that have raged throughout the Rocky Mountains. My Facebook timeline was scattered with pleas for rain, progress reports on containment and many moving images of the very real damage of wildfire. One particular image caught my eye – something that relates to any community, large or small, impacted by a disaster.

You see, the very nature of community, whether it be one suffering from the ravages of a wildfire or an earthquake, is the tie that binds one to the land, the neighborhood, the nature, the very place we call home. It is that link, the one that brings tears to our eyes when we see a place we grew up in struggling against Mother Nature, that breeds resilience and establishes the foundation for a successful recovery.

At SFDEM, we often speak about the importance of preparedness and how many, most of us in fact, are more prepared than we think we are. But for a moment, I want to talk about life beyond the first 72 Hours. The most important part of the disaster is after the event. Often times, we think of survival on individual terms, but that certainly is not how one survives. We build our lives as members of a community and we survive as members of a community. And although a community may take a heck of a beating, courtesy of Mother Nature or some such event, it does not burn down. It only grows stronger.

Alicia D. Johnson is the Resilience and Recovery Manager at SFDEM. She is a strong advocate for innovation in disaster and human resilience. She can be reached on Twitter – @UrbanAreaAlicia.

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