Municipalities in southern Israel appear to have heeded the experiences of their northern counterparts during the Second Lebanon War two years ago, and efforts to keep more than half a million residents safe and calm in light of the current conflict with Hamas are so far running relatively smoothly, The Jerusalem Post heard Sunday.
"We knew it would reach us eventually," Netivot Mayor Yehiel Zohar told the Post in a telephone interview, as Hamas-fired rockets continued to rain down on the area, with some reaching as far as 40 kilometers from the Gaza border.
Zohar, whose town of 25,600 experienced a direct hit Saturday that killed one person, said that following the 2006 war, he visited several northern municipalities that had been under fire in an attempt to prepare his own town for any similar attack.
"Aside from preparing the municipal bomb shelters and making sure they were ready for an emergency, we also carried out all the required drills with our staff to make sure we were prepared from every angle," he continued, adding that many of the drills took place under the direction of the IDF Home Front Command.
Zohar added that the mood in Netivot, which sits less than 11 km. from Gaza, was mixed, with some people attempting to continue day-to-day activities and others fearing escalation of the conflict.
Dvora Ganani-Elad, director-general of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), which funds numerous psychological and social welfare programs in the western Negev region, said the level of preparedness across the besieged area was "completely opposite to what happened two years ago in the North."
"This morning I've spoken to all the mayors and city council heads in the southern area and most have told me that they're coping well under the circumstances," said Ganani-Elad.
However, she pointed out that among the main challenge was reaching elderly residents, many of whom cannot physically be moved to more secure structures - especially those living in less populated areas like the Ashkelon coast and Sha'ar Hanegev.
"Those elderly people who are living on the kibbutzim, for example, are the most vulnerable," she said, adding that in Ashdod, which is a little less than 30 km. from the Gaza border, more than 300 elderly residents were in need of immediate attention.
In Ashdod, director of the Jewish Agency for Israel-run absorption center, Asher Seyum, told the Post that emergency procedures for the 92 immigrant residents were already in place.
"We have appointed a person on each floor of the center to be responsible for emergency drills and help those who need it to make their way down to the shelters," described Seyum, who had been the director of a Safed absorption center during the Second Lebanon War when it was hit by a Hizbullah-fired Katyusha rocket.
"I have experience dealing with this kind of emergency," he said, adding that often, people are not in danger from the rockets but are at risk of hurting themselves if they panic. "I plan to brief all my staff tomorrow on how to provide emotional support to the immigrants," he sad.
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