With residents of Sderot and its surroundings suffering a daily Kassam rocket bombardment from the Gaza Strip, Israeli ingenuity has developed a solution to try to make life for residents as normal as possible - mobile bomb shelters.
"We came up with the concept of these portable shelters that can be deployed and redeployed as security needs change," said Josh Adler, the co-founder of Operation Lifeshield, a new organization that is behind the initiative.
Currently the only mobile air-raid shelters designed to meet the strict requirements of Israel's Home Front Command, were designed in coordination with the Command and an Israeli engineering firm in Bet She'an.
While some homes have shelters and communal shelters can be found in many neighborhoods, their fixed location forces residents to remain there for hours and days at a time. Children cannot play outside, playgrounds and fields remain empty, and people are shuttered in.
Adler and his partner in the endeavor, recent American immigrant Shep Alster, were volunteering in the north of Israel during last summer's Second Lebanon War when they saw the need for mobile shelters.
"War broke out and we went up north to distribute food. During that process, we became aware of the acute lack of shelters in general and the complete lack of shelters in the open area. There's no place to take cover in the open," he explained. So, Adler, who has lived in Israel since 1976 and works in the building business, decided to do something about it.
In order to give people a better quality of life, and allow them to leave their homes and shelters, portable shelters could provide the solution.
"The main idea here is to have them spread out in places where people are caught out in the open. It's designed to save lives where there is no shelter. We needed something that could be done quickly, efficiently, and could be redeployable. Redeployability was definitely a major player here. We needed something that could be built in a factory and brought on a crane very quickly," Adler told ISRAEL21c.
While portable shelters have existed for many years, they were rare and outdated and none could meet the Home Front Command's rigid requirements. Last year Adler and Alster put together a team to devise the plan for their shelters, which included representatives from the Command, civil engineer Haim Finkelstein and a Beit She'an company Orpaz Engineering, which came up with a final engineering plan.
"Each shelter has the power of shielding many civilians in communities without sufficient means of protection, while also allowing these suffering people to go out, study, play and lead a normal life - knowing refuge is at hand whenever the air raid sirens sound," said Adler.
With the shelters designed, however, Adler and Alster realized that funding was not available for the municipalities in question - like Sderot - to purchase them. That led them to Operation LifeShield. Modeled on the Magen David Adom model in which people can donate ambulances to Israel's emergency services, Operation LifeShield, enables interested parties to donate the shelters - which the partners dubbed 'LifeShields.'
Launched in late May, Operation LifeShield has already provided four shelters to Sderot and to locations in northern Israel. "We eagerly welcome the Operation LifeShield initiative, a viable solution that has come at such a critical time for Sderot," stated Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal upon the delivery of a LifeShield shelter to a local kindergarten.
What's the secret behind these unique shelters? "One of the main features that has become a requirement is a material called 'flexdek' which is a 1.2 mm-thick galvanized kind of sheeting. It's placed in with the concrete and becomes a part of the concrete. That adds an extra 15-20 percent of strength," reports Adler.
Each shelter is inspected and certified by a licensed concrete inspection laboratory, a structural engineer, and a licensed electrician. These transportable shelters can prevent the penetration of bullets, shrapnel, and missile fragments, as well as withstand a direct hit from some types of missiles.
While currently only deployed in Israel, Adler says that the device has already piqued the interest of other organizations. "We've had some interest from the UN," he said, noting that officials visited the Israeli factory that makes LifeShields. "People have expressed the feeling that this could be used around the world." Yossi Ben-Baruch, project manager of Orpaz Engineering, told WorldTribune.com that he envisioned sales outside of Israel. "This can be exportable in the next stage," he said.
In addition to the LifeShields, Adler is already busy on his next project - a fortified bus stop shelter. The bus stop shelter "looks and functions like a regular bus stop, but can withstand a direct hit from a Kassam missile. It also has a little inner room that can hold 8-10 people. The idea is to have these bus stops spread out throughout busy streets," explained Adler, adding that the Home Front Command has approved of the design.
Though the Operation LifeShield shelters and bus stops cannot provide Sderot and other communities with peace, it can offer them peace of mind.
"It's designed to save lives," said Adler.