The flag stands as a sentinel over a landscape strangely desolate. This is not the neighborhood I remember. Several years ago, a preverbal lifetime in fact, I lived within feet of the Mountain Shadows community – the neighborhood destroyed in the wake of the Waldo Canyon Fire.
Upon a recent trip back to Colorado, I asked my family to take a detour through the community ravaged by the wildfire. Days after containment the smell of acrid smoke lingered in the air and the devastation was gut-wrenching.
Disasters are indiscriminate, yet they do not always take everything in their path. Some homes are left untouched, while neighboring properties are razed to the ground. There is no rhyme and no reason to what is left. This is the first lesson of all disasters. The impact of the Waldo Canyon Fire was no exception to the rule.
As we continued our drive, the clouds moved in and I was struck with dread – this community which has already been through far more than most, will experience yet another hazard before the summer is through. Thunderstorms are par for the course throughout the Colorado summer and without vegetation the rainwater has no where to go, but downhill, directly into the impacted neighborhood.
Disasters rarely come alone. Wildfires are often followed by risks of flooding. Earthquakes can be following by risks of fire or at the very least a few days without electricity and running water. This is the second lesson of all disasters.
Knowing this, the risks and the rewards of their community, neighbors were out in force inspecting, cleaning, clearing and rebuilding their lives.
Preparedness is a cultural value. So is resilience. Whether we live here in San Francisco or in another community, we prepare because we want to build our lives there, even after a disaster. We anchor ourselves in a community in the hopes of coming back stronger and smarter than before. That is the essence of resilience.
Each of us, like the flag on the mountain, stand as a sentinel, guiding, guarding, protecting and preserving our community because it is our home.
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.