Scenes of chaos played out Tuesday morning in the Israeli parliament building. For a change the chaos wasn't over the latest piece of controversial legislation or corruption scandal, today at the Knesset lawmakers took part in an earthquake preparedness drill.
Israeli emergency forces are in the middle of a three-day national drill on coping with expected damage from potential earthquakes and the Knesset is taking part in it.
As can be seen in the video captured by Jerusalem Post
political reporter Gil Hoffman, the MKs were enthusiastic partners in the drill, some using zip lines to rappel from their third-floor offices and others serving as mock casualties to be treated by medics and evacuated to hospital in a helicopter.
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, that are over three stories high and that were built before 1980, making them illegible according to current construction 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 6,000-7,000 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.