Is Israel ready for the next big earthquake?

Tamir Levy, chief engineer for the Association for Better Housing, warns that most homes would not withstand a powerful earthquake.

November 14, 2017 00:53
4 minute read.
A man rides past the remains of a building in Darbandikhanm, Kurdistan, after a 7.2 magnitude earthq

A man rides past the remains of a building in Darbandikhanm, Kurdistan, after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake there, November 2017. (photo credit: AKO RASHEED / REUTERS)


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Sunday night’s tremors not only gave Israelis a bit of a shake-up, it also served as a wake-up call to both the public and private sectors to get their acts together to ensure people’s safety and reinforce structures and infrastructures.

The 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit the border of eastern Iraq and the northwest border of Iran on Sunday night and killed some 400 people in both countries, according to the US Geological Survey.

Aftershocks were reported throughout the Middle East and could be felt in parts of Israel, even though it is some 1,300 kilometers away from the point of impact.
More than 300 killed in Iraq and Iran after powerful earthquake November 13, 2017. (Reuters)

On Monday morning, as the death toll continued to rise, the State of Israel sent condolences to both countries on their losses.

Israel is also not immune to earthquakes, and since it’s located along the Syrian-African fault line (a line that runs along the border between Jordan and Israel), a major earthquake is statistically due in the region, with a serious one arriving every 80-100 years.

The last major earthquake to hit Israel was in 1927, which claimed some 500 lives and registered 6.2 on the Richter scale.

In light of Sunday night’s shake-up, Tamir Levy, chief engineer for the Association for Better Housing, warns that most homes would not withstand a powerful earthquake.

“A large number of the residential homes in Israel will be damaged by a large earthquake regardless of when they were built,” Levy said in a statement released on Monday, adding: “It is not possible to prevent earthquakes, but it is possible to prepare for them and thus reduce the damage they cause. Since earthquakes cannot be predicted, we should be prepared at all times. Preparedness means, first and foremost, to ensure that the buildings in which we live and work meet the stringent building standards required to protect against earthquakes.”

The association stated that it works in cooperation with the Home Front Command, providing civilians and families with workshops and emergency planning techniques to further prepare citizens for a possible natural disaster.

Every summer, security forces and emergency services conduct a four-day drill to improve cooperation among these groups in the event of a major earthquake.

Following the 2012 drill, then-OC Home Front Command Maj.-Gen. Eyal Eizenberg said that “an earthquake in Israel is more dangerous than war,” as it would result in “damage to life and property on a much more significant scale.”

The government has begun funding earthquake preparedness projects, and the Home Front Command in recent years released a software application for earthquake preparedness, but according to a report by the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s Home Front Readiness Subcommittee, if Israel were to be struck by a 7.5 magnitude quake, an estimated 7,000 people would be killed, another 8,600 injured and 377,000 left homeless. In addition, the country could face damage to the tune 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 the National Emergency Authority, there are 80,000 buildings, including schools and hospitals, over three stories high that were built before 1980, meaning they were not constructed to meet current standards. And only 2,700 of those buildings have received approval for the government’s Tama 38 reconstruction program.

The goal of Tama 38 is to reinforce buildings built after 1980, particularly those built along the Great Rift Valley, a location highly vulnerable to earthquakes. However, in a statement released by TamaFix, most of the work done for this project has been in major cities, thus leaving thousands of families in places like Arad, Tiberias and communities close to the Jordan River unprotected in the event of a natural disaster.

“The big one can happen anytime, and it is not good that the local governments are not doing enough to encourage people to reinforce their structures,” Eliran Simani, CEO of TamaFix Israel, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

As of August, only 13 buildings located in the periphery have been reinforced and brought up to code in the event of an earthquake, as opposed to the 4,385 in major cities like Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem since Tama 38 was established in 2005.

According TamaFix co-CEO Lior Gozes, “The amount required to prevent the collapse of an apartment in the periphery is NIS 84,000.”

He added that “this sum is based on calculating the cost of constructing a housing unit that holds 12 families at a rate of NIS 1 million, which includes construction costs, taxes, architect and engineer costs, and more.”

Anna Ahronheim contributed to this report.


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