Haifa Police Chief Dep.-Cmdr. Ahuva Tomer 311.
(photo credit: Israel Police)
The aftershocks of the fire on Mount Carmel are still reverberating. On Monday,
Haifa Police chief Dep.-Cmdr. Ahuva Tomer succumbed to injuries she sustained
Thursday, bringing the death toll in the disaster to 42. Frustration abounds,
compounded by the fact that neglect of firefighting services was known to all,
yet nothing was done about it.
Any future improvements in our
firefighting capabilities will be too late for Tomer and the other
But we must learn our lesson well. Israel’s unpreparedness in
other fields is inviting the next tragedy.
Prevention is still an
The earthquake threat is a case in point. Israel is located on
the Syrian African Rift that stretches from the Bekaa Valley in the North,
passes through the Hula Valley into the Sea of Galilee and continues south
through the Jordan Rift Valley to the Dead Sea. Every 80 years, on average,
there is an earthquake of 6 or more on the Richter scale. The last one took
place in 1927.
Yet Israel is surprisingly lax. On Monday, Dr. Avi
Shapira, chairman of the interministerial steering committee for earthquake
preparation, told Army Radio that his committee had no operating budget for 2011
due to infighting between the Treasury and the various ministries which are
supposed to foot the costs. Buildings constructed before 1980 are not covered by
Israel Standard 413, an internationally accepted building code designed to
protect against earthquakes.
In 2005 Israel passed “Tama 38,” a
nationwide program to reinforce older residential buildings that includes
various incentives such as state-subsidized renovations and room additions in
exchange for agreeing to participate. Yet a lack of advertising has resulted in
a lackluster response. Shapira estimated that only a few dozen buildings had
been revamped so far.
During a January discussion in the Knesset Internal
Affairs Committee following the Haiti earthquake, Ya’acov Bar-Lavi of the Survey
of Israel Center said that of 650,000 structures in the country, there are
96,000 residential buildings in danger of collapsing in the event of a massive
ANOTHER DISASTER in the making is the dilapidated state of
our hospitals. Experts are split on which is worse: the dearth of hospital beds
or the lack of medical staff available to help the sick get in and out of the
hospital as quickly as possible.
According to a recent study for the
Knesset, only Mexico has fewer hospital beds than Israel among OECD countries.
In Israel, there are only 1.98 hospital beds per 1,000 residents, compared to
8.2 in Japan and 5.7 in Germany. Internal medicine departments are chronically
overcrowded, and two-thirds of ventilated patients in general hospitals are
treated in ordinary wards rather than in the over-crowded intensive care
Due to the “hot bed” policy, hospitalization is only four days on
average compared to 19 days in Japan, 8.2 days in Switzerland and 7.5 in
Britain. Only in Mexico is the average – 3.9 days – shorter. As a result, the
sick do not heal properly and need to return more frequently.
Health Ministry plans to expand the number of hospital beds have been met by
AIRPORT SAFETY is another area of concern. In
November, Giovanni Bisignani, CEO of the International Air Transport
Association, chastised Israel for failing to upgrade its US Federal Aviation
Administration’s (FAA) International Aviation Safety Assessment ranking from
Category 2 to Category 1. “Israel has been in Category 2 for far too long. It is
a national embarrassment. Moreover, it is a costly situation for Israel’s
reputation and for the financial health of its carriers,” Bisignani said at a
press conference in Tel Aviv.
In December 2008, the FAA downgraded
Israel’s safety rating following an assessment of the country’s Civil Aviation
Authority and in particular its regulation of light, private and sports
aviation. Bisignani also highlighted the urgent need for Israel to designate an
alternative to Ben-Gurion Airport for handling operational
THE MOUNT Carmel fire caught Israel unprepared. But it
can serve as a wake-up call for other potential catastrophes.
of Tomer and the other 41 victims might have been saved “only if.” But if we
deign to learn our lesson and prevent other potential dangers before it is too
late, their loss will not be for naught.