Comptroller doesn't spare local authorities in report

Regarding state of preparedness on eve of the war, comptroller "uncovered a sad picture."

By DAN IZENBERG
July 18, 2007 12:10
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Regarding the state of preparedness on the eve of the war, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss wrote that his investigation "uncovered a grim picture indicating that the level of preparedness and organization of the local authorities for emergency situations in general, and prolonged rocket and missile attacks in particular, was extremely low when the war broke out. There was a wide and fundamental gap between the regulations and guidelines handed down by the responsible state authorities during the years before the war and their implementation." Lindenstrauss placed most of the blame for the lack or preparedness on the local authorities themselves. But he added that "the nature of the activities and the involvement of the national organizations, including Melah (responsible for handling national emergencies), the IDF Home Front Command, the Northern Command and the Ministry of Interior, were also faulty and contributed to the harsh reality during the war." As one of many examples, the state comptroller pointed out that the state organizations had prepared two key documents setting forth the organizational infrastructure required by the local authorities for coping with emergency situations. He found that these organizations, including Melah, the Interior Ministry, the Home Front Command and the association of local authorities, had not followed through with a plan to make sure the local authorities absorbed and integrated the guidelines. On the other hand, the local authorities did not establish internal regulations for implementing the overall plan. In 1998, an interministerial committee prepared a series of regulations to deal with the problems of the various sectors of the civilian population during an emergency. The state comptroller found that the local authorities did not fully implement the regulations. For example, they did not prepare procedures for putting their towns and cities on an emergency footing, did not prepare a survey of the population including the specific needs of different sectors of the population (including the elderly and the disabled), and did not set up multidisciplinary intervention teams to deal with the problems faced by a population under fire. The state comptroller found that there were not enough bomb shelters to provide protection for every resident in range of the rockets. He laid most of the blame for this on the Home Front Command which, he said, should have prepared a proper mapping survey including the number and location of every shelter and protected area and the number of people who would need shelters in time of war. "The Home Front Command must base itself, among other things, on statistics demonstrating the gap between the existing resources of protection and the demand for protection in order to establish a set of priorities and efficiently exploit the annual allocation of funds provided to close the gap," wrote the state comptroller. "The data should also be used to prepare a master plan to supply shelter or protection to all residents. We found that even though everyone knew that a large proportion of the population was vulnerable to rocket, missile and bombing attacks, the Home Front had yet to prepare a full mapping of the gaps between supply and demand." The state comptroller also found that most of the bomb shelters had been built according to the prevailing concept at the time, which was that they would be needed for short periods at a time. This concept had become outdated, he wrote. During the war, residents were forced to stay in their shelters for days and weeks at a time. However, thousands of people called emergency call-in centers established by the local authorities to complain about problems that made it impossible for them to remain in the shelter for a long period. Lindenstrauss criticized the Home Front Command for failing to monitor the condition of the shelters. From August 2001 until February 2006, it did not even instruct the local authorities as to how often they should check the shelters and document the results of such examinations. As for the local authorities, they did not allocate enough manpower to maintain the shelters in proper condition. According to the report, Safed employed only 20 percent of the proper standard, Tiberias 33% and Kiryat Shmona 42%. Regarding the performance of the local authorities during the days of the fighting, the state comptroller found faults with several categories of activities, including the establishment of operational centers, arrangements for receiving accurate and updated information on the whereabouts and needs of the residents, and mobilization of local authority employees and additional help including volunteers and soldiers. One of the vital missions was to provide food for those who were spending all their time in the bomb shelters and could not shop or cook for themselves. According to the state comptroller, "The local authorities did not identify or define in an orderly and systematic manner what was required to provide food and other vital necessities and to distribute it efficiently, so that some residents would not get twice as much as they should, and those who could not look after themselves, such as the elderly and the disabled, would receive their share." The bomb shelters in public housing and other large apartment buildings are considered private, and the residents of the buildings are responsible for their maintenance. However, the local authorities are responsible for making certain the private shelters are kept in good shape. The government published a model by-law for local authorities which included penalties for those who did not take care of their shelters. The state comptroller found that even though Safed, Kiryat Shmona and Tiberias enacted the by-law, they did not enforce it, did not examine the shelters and, it goes without saying, did not apply sanctions against anyone. In response to the report, Kiryat Shmona Mayor Haim Barbibai said that in case of another war, it would be wise to evacuate the residents of Kiryat Shmona, since local authorities could only provide residents with proper emergency services for a short period of time, perhaps a few hours, and not 33 days, the length of the Second Lebanon War. "This is absurd," said Barbibai. "Instead of receiving a medal, we are being heaped with all this blame. I think we worked well under the circumstances we faced. If there are bomb shelters without proper air conditioning and bathrooms, that is because the concept we are working under is for short stays. The local authorities, by concept and design, can only provide services under emergency for a few hours. The Home Front Command and the government need to decide what they want: If they want the authorities to be able to provide services and bomb shelters for long stays, they need to change the concept. If they want to keep it as it is now - short stays in bomb shelters - then the government has to prepare an evacuation plan." Barbibai also complained that the state comptroller could not expect the local authorities to prepare themselves "when the government slashes our budgets without mercy. Given everything that was done to us, I am telling you that almost all the local authorities functioned in a way that warrants respect." Karmiel mayor and local authorities association chief Adi Eldar said that not in his worst nightmares would he have thought that missiles would fall on his city. Eldar estimated that about 200 missiles fell on Karmiel and the surrounding areas during the war. "We definitely need to prepare for longer stays in bomb shelters," he said.

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