The Defense Ministry, along with the security establishment and the National Emergency Authority, will hold an emergency meeting Thursday after over 10 earthquakes struck around the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret) in recent days.
The emergency meeting will also see the participation of representatives from The Home Front Command, police, firefighters, MDA and the heads of all local authorities.
According to a report by Israel’s Channel 2, the meeting will discuss the possibility that relevant authorities may have to be activated at a moment’s notice and therefore instructions have already been issued to refresh emergency procedures.
The meeting will also discuss the issue of the common language between all concerned parties during emergency times.
Dozens of earthquakes have been felt in northern Israel over the past few days and the northern city of Tiberias announced on Sunday that it had opened an emergency hotline for residents.
On Thursday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced that a new multi-year plan to protect Israel from earthquakes is set to be presented to the cabinet this month.
“Last year, we carried out the biggest earthquake exercise in years. We learned many lessons, one of which was the need for a multi-year home front defense plan, especially for the north. This month, we’ll present it to the cabinet – and I’m sure we’ll get the green light and budget to get started,” he said in a statement.
Liberman nevertheless criticized the cabinet’s inaction in addressing the threat of earthquakes, saying that the cabinet “was supposed to hold a discussion about it two weeks ago, [which] was canceled at the last moment.”
Israel is situated along the Syrian- African fault line which runs along the border between Israel and Jordan, part of the Great Rift Valley encompassing the area from northern Syria to Mozambique.
Earthquakes in the region tend to be small; the last major earthquake to strike Israel was in 1927. Measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale, it killed 500 people and injured an additional 700. On January 1, 1837, a magnitude 6.5 quake struck near Israel’s Galilee, killing an estimated 6,000-7,000 people.
The Israeli government has begun funding earthquake preparedness projects. The Home Front Command has recently released an app for earthquake preparedness and trained over 74,000 students across the country to act as first responders in case of an earthquake to provide aid until professional rescue service teams arrive.
A 2016 report by Israel’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s Home-Front Readiness Subcommittee found that if Israel were to be struck by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake, an estimated 7,000 people would be killed, another 8,600 injured and 377,000 expected to be left homeless. In addition, the country could face damages of up to NIS 200 billion.
In addition to buildings being destroyed, the damage to critical infrastructures such as electricity, water and communication is expected to be great. According to Israel’s National Emergency Authority, there are 80,000 buildings, including schools and hospitals, over three stories high that were built before 1980, and not constructed to current standards.
In addition to the inland damage of a major earthquake, Israel’s coastline risks being devastated by possible tsunamis. On average, a significant tsunami hits the Mediterranean Sea every 100 years, and Israel’s coastline suffers one on average every 250 years. According to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), the last one was recorded in 1956, the result of a large earthquake in Greek waters. Prior to that, the only tsunamis recorded were near Acre in the 19th century and Caesarea in the 12th century.
While tsunamis in Israel are not believed to have the power of those that recently devastated Japan and Thailand, in November 2017 the Israeli government began placing tsunami warning signs and evacuation routes along coastal cities.