The security forces and emergency services began an annual four-day drill on Sunday, focused on sharpening cooperation among agencies in the event of a major earthquake.
The system of warning sirens in place across the country will not be activated during the exercise, the IDF’s Spokesperson’s Unit said. As a strong earthquake could cripple the communications infrastructure, authorities will test the effectiveness of rescue services working without the ability to relay vital information to the public.
A senior officer in the IDF Home Front Command said on Sunday that the drill will be divided into five parts, including the mobilization of personnel after a national emergency as well as how to reach cities such as Haifa that might be severely damaged by a quake.
The drill will also train authorities on how to deal with displaced persons and secondary effects of an earthquake such as fires or gas leaks.
The National Emergency Administration, IDF Home Front Command, Israel Police, Magen David Adom emergency services, Israel Fire and Rescue Services and 164 municipalities are participating in the drill.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the weekly cabinet meeting that “as part of our efforts and actions to improve preparedness on the home front for an emergency, we are starting a national exercise for the event of an earthquake.”
“The more prepared we are, the better we will be able to deal with such an event and reduce the damage to life and property,” the prime minister said.
Netanyahu stressed the need for the public to follow instructions issued by authorities.
“In the case of an earthquake, in contrast to other scenarios which threaten the home front, the basic rule is to get out of your homes, get out of buildings. The safest place to be is in open space,” he said.
A 2016 report by the Knesset 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 left homeless. In addition, the country could face damage of up to NIS 200 billion.
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, and not constructed to current standards.
“In terms of damage to buildings and infrastructure and the number of displaced it would be an unprecedented disaster for Israel in which 2% of the population in one fell swoop would lose their homes,” read the report, prepared by a team headed by Prof. Eran Feitelson of the Hebrew University’s geography department.
“From the point of view of causalities, the scale would be more than three times that of the Yom Kippur War occurring all at once, in the space of a few minutes,” it continued.
The government has begun funding earthquake preparedness projects and in late May it was announced that Canadian company Nanometrics had been selected to install an earthquake early-warning system that provides a 10- to 30-second warning to go to an open area.
The system, which is expected to be functional within a year, will be installed in 120 stations in the Dead Sea Valley, Jordan Valley and Haifa area, all earthquake-prone areas.
According to the senior Home Front Command officer, while earthquakes are not the most pressing danger facing the country, much of the exercise is similar to what is done in war drills. “In the end, it doesn’t matter what made a house collapse, a missile or an earthquake, the way you’d deal with it is the same.”
The Syrian-African fault line runs along the border with Jordan, part of the Great Rift Valley that extends from northern Syria to Mozambique.
Earthquakes in the region do tend to be small, with the last major earthquake to strike Israel coming in 1927, measured 6.2 on the Richter scale, killing 500 people and injuring an additional 700. On January 1, 1837, a magnitude 6.5 quake, often called the Safed earthquake, struck the Galilee, killing an estimated 6,000-7000 people.
“Statistics show that a severe earthquake happens every 100 years, and so there is a chance we will face one soon,” the senior officer said.
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