Reflecting on Leadership, Community & Fire

by Joe Sterling

Hurricanes and floods, wildfires and earthquakes! There's a lot going on! In times like these, we find out just how resilient our innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystems really are. And, when impacted by overwhelming calamity, we discover what it takes to lead communities through the emergency, the clean-up, and the recovery. 

As an Oregon resident, the last few weeks of wildfires have reminded me of what it was like to live through the catastrophic wildfires in San Diego in 2003 and 2007. After the 2003 wildfire, my wife and I ran relief efforts in the burned-out valley where we lived. We learned first-hand what post-disaster leadership entails, including running our ranch for a year as a community relief center and revitalization hub that served hundreds of families and small businesses.

In my "Reflection on Leadership, Community, and Fire" write-up (2005), I did my best to capture the leadership behaviors that worked for us in post-disaster situations. In it you will find stories and principles that I hope will be both inspirational and practically helpful. Serving on the San Diego Community Assessment Team after the 2007 wildfires that ripped through multiple cities in San Diego County, I had a chance to see how others ran their efforts, and fine-tuned my thoughts on what it takes.

Best wishes to all who are working with friends and neighbors in disaster recovery, be it from wind, flood, or fire. Eventually, community revitalization and economic recovery will commence. As terrible as the disaster is now, have hope and faith that through collaboration, community solidarity, and the extraordinary leadership of ordinary people, the rebuilding will make things more robust and resilient than ever before.