Snow in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A snow storm is coming Wednesday. Are we ready? Jerusalem and other towns and cities located high enough above sea level to have sub-zero temperatures are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.
The stormy weather is expected to begin on Tuesday with an influx of cold air from Eastern Europe, bringing with it rain and snow in higher places like the Golan and Galilee.
By Wednesday the snow is expected to spread to Jerusalem.
Some forecasts predict as much as 60 centimeters of snow for higher elevations in northern Israel and in the high-altitude Etzion Bloc, south of Jerusalem.
Speaking at a press conference held at the municipality’s snow preparedness center, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said Monday that a heavy snowfall might mean that roads leading to and inside the capital might have to be blocked to traffic for public safety.
The police, said Barkat, “will block and will not allow traffic on the main roads, the entrance to the city, on the main arteries inside Jerusalem. This is to allow the plows and the security services to keep the roads open, primarily for saving lives.”
Barkat said that blocking roads due to the blizzard is aimed at preventing a repeat of 2013’s massive snowstorm, when hundreds of cars were trapped in drifts along main highways.
Following that storm, thousands were left without electricity for days and roads remained impassable long after the snow stopped falling. The elderly and the sick were the hardest hit, remaining stranded in snowbound areas of Jerusalem.
There are signs that Jerusalem is better prepared this time around. Barkat said at Monday’s press conference that he has at his disposal 150 snowplows, compared to just 90 in the December 2013 storm. Since then Israel Electric has placed additional power lines underground and has trimmed trees near lines that remain above ground.
“We learned our lessons from the last storm,” promised Barkat. “The situation room will begin operating starting Tuesday evening after months of preparation. I am able to say that we are ready for snow.”
After the December 2013 storm, a Knesset committee concluded that there is no overarching body on the national level supervising, providing information in real time, and coordinating among municipalities, Israel Electric, Israel Police, the Fire and Rescue Service, the IDF, various emergency organizations, public transportation, and the school system.
The result was that each of these bodies often operated in complete or partial isolation from the others. The Jerusalem Municipality was not aware, for instance, that Egged had discontinued all bus service and had not equipped any of its buses with chains.
Israel Electric relied on local municipalities to help them gain access to fallen power lines, but often the municipalities were not properly equipped or were busy elsewhere.
The head of the teachers’ union has called on all school principals to cancel school in cities such as Jerusalem and Safed, which were previously snowed in. But this was done without coordinating with the municipalities or with various volunteer organizations that could have enlisted 11th and 12th graders to help evacuate the sick, the elderly, and the poor or to help transport supplies and equipment.
Only by establishing a national coordinating body can the various organizations work effectively together. This is true whether the challenge is preparing for and functioning during a snow storm or whether it is dealing with the aftereffects of a major earthquake, a fire, or a military attack.
Ostensibly, the Home Front Defense Ministry should have been that body, but it was dismantled in June and its duties were transferred to the Defense Ministry. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that maintaining the ministry was redundant and a waste of money.
At the time of its dissolution, then-director-general Dan Ronen warned against the move. “In recent months, I’ve seen how critical it is to prepare the Israeli home front for emergency situations like an American attack in Syria, earthquakes, snow and more. I have no doubt that the State of Israel requires an independent ministry with full authority and a full-time minister who will deal with preparations and management of the home front during an emergency, and not a ministry that will be subordinate to the DefenseMinistry.”
Let’s hope Ronen is proved wrong.