Purim is the traditional time of year for wearing masks, but the residents of Or Yehuda, who lined up at the post office Sunday, were there to receive masks of a completely different kind.
The IDF Home Front Command, together with the Israel Postal Company (IPC), opened a gas mask distribution center, where residents of the city can pick up their upgraded biological and chemical warfare protection kits.
The distribution center in Or Yehuda is the test case upon which country-wide distribution will be modeled. The pilot project is scheduled to last 10 days and will operate out of eight points across the city. To enable the entire population to be refitted quickly and efficiently, the distribution points at IPC branches will be open for extended hours.
During the last mass distribution of gas masks, which took place in 1991, leading up to the Gulf War, the Home Front Command itself was in charge of distribution. This time the government decided to outsource the procedure to an external body. The IPC beat out seven other candidates, including Magen David Adom emergency response service and supermarket chain Shufersal, to win the tender for the distribution project.
IPC vice-president of operations, Chaim Mazaki, was on hand to oversee the operations of the first and largest distribution center, located in the city’s downtown commercial center.
“Because this is the pilot, we are investing all of our resources here,” said Mazaki. “I don’t think other cities will feature so many distribution points. There we will call people in on a street-by-street basis.”
Mazaki said he and his team have been working towards the opening of the center for three months, ever since the IPC won the tender.
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“There is a lot of logistics involved in an operation like this. It is up to us to make sure the entire population is provided with gas masks. That means we have to make sure everybody knows about the distribution and either comes to the centers or orders a delivery to their houses and make sure that every person has the right mask that suits them,” said Mazaki. “We work closely with the army and if any problems come up we refer the citizens to them.”
A new service that is available from the post office is to have the mask and the kit delivered to an individual’s home. For a fee of NIS 25, a carrier will deliver any number of kits to a given address and even pick the old kits up if necessary.
Those who, according to the Home Front Command’s records, are still in possession of their old protection kits must return them before receiving the new ones. People who lost their old kits will be charged a NIS 70 replacement fee.
Mazaki said the main thing he was worried about was citizen apathy.
“If we have to start chasing people down to make sure they receive their kits, it will drain our resources,” he said.
Ofra Shalem, 46, said she came to the center to get it over with and not out of a sense of panic or concern.
“I was in the neighborhood, so I dropped by,” said Shalem. “I don’t think there is cause for fear or concern.” Shalem, who came to pick up the kits for her husband and her 22-year-old son, who is currently out of the country, said she returned her old kits and didn’t anticipate any problems in being issued new ones. She said she was pleased by the level of service and the smooth manner in which things were run. She said she heard about the project on the radio.
Hagai Ezra, 78, said he had waited for half an hour for his kit, but as he was not in a rush was content to sit and wait. He said that because he lives in the area, he came down to pick the mask up himself, but if had lived further away, he would have considered ordering a carrier.
“I’m not afraid of an attack, but it’s important to be prepared in any case,” said Ezra.
Lea David, a woman in her forties, came to the center to pick up masks for herself and for her daughter. She said it was a waste for her to have the kits delivered, but that it was good for elderly people who couldn’t get around easily.
“I don’t like the fact that they have to pay though [to get the kit delivered]. It’s a life-saving kit. Why should people have to pay?” said David.
The only problem that arose was when one women came to pick up a mask for her and her husband, but did not receive the special mask that her asthmatic husband needed.
Mazaki explained that people with special needs are referred to the army representative and that it is up to them to determine how to proceed. “People with asthma require masks with compressors to improve airflow,” said Mazaki.
“In order to receive one, patients have to go before a medical committee that will determine if they are entitled to it.”
After the Or Yehuda pilot is completed, another, wider pilot is planned for the entire Ono region.
Mazaki said that if both prove successful, distribution will commence
across the country, scheduled according to the plans of the Home Front
Command and based on threat levels.
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