Home Front Command earthquake drill.
(photo credit: Hadas Parush)
Were it not for news reports this week, average Israelis would have remained
blissfully unaware of the country’s largest-scale ever drills to prepare us for
It wasn’t supposed to be like that. One of the exercise’s
prime objectives was to instruct the public in emergency
Alarms were to be sent out to Smartphones, and TV and radio
broadcasts were interrupted. But most phones received no disaster alerts and
unless anxious individuals sought out emergency on-air announcements, they never
heard them. Except for isolated communities, folks did not practice following
evacuation routes, and if they did, most didn’t time
Doubtless, this afforded more than photo-ops, but the
beneficiaries were almost exclusively first-responders. The rest was
It is not that we do not have what to fear, straddling as we do a
major geological fault line – the Afro-Syrian rift – where two restless tectonic
plates rub against each other. The Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley are the
physical manifestations of that rift in our country.
Geologists warn us
to expect a major quake (above 7 on the Richter Scale) sometime within 50 years.
It can happen any day or not for decades to come. If the temblor proves to be of
a particularly destructive magnitude or in a lethally nearby location, no part
of the country would be safe.
Major earthquakes are approximately a
once-in-a-millennium phenomenon here and experts judge we are due one soon. We
are tremendously more densely populated than in 1033, when the last great seism
struck this country. That makes us tremendously more vulnerable, our hi-tech
lifestyle notwithstanding. Pretending we have time will not make us
Committees aplenty had been set up and compiled learned
recommendations on shoring up structures and preparing for what is more likely
to come, a quake like that of 1927, which – bad as it was – was not the “big
All the talk has produced are scare-mongering commercials geared to
induce the citizenry to reinforce buildings constructed before 1980, when more
stringent codes went into effect (though nobody has examined how scrupulously
those codes were implemented for structures built since then).
There is a
business aspect to all this. A state-sponsored program known by the Hebrew
acronym TAMA-38 proposes to buttress and expand older apartment houses at no
cost to the residents, while the contractors who do the job are compensated by
being granted the right to construct additional floors and sell off the new
flats. There is considerable enticement here to homeowners. Besides increased
safety, they are offered upgrades and substantial renovations – seemingly for
On the surface at least this looks like a win-win scheme – a dream
formula where everyone benefits and the public coffers are not emptied. So why
has the program not taken off? Why has there been no mass rush to reap the
advantages it ostensibly extends? Red tape is part of the problem. Not every
municipality is eager to issue permits, as concerns about overcrowding and urban
quality of life grow. Financial complications abound, involving collateral, for
example. The natural conservatism of residents also plays a role.
there is the particularly vexing reality of incentive.
hazards exist for towns closest to the rift. Locations such as Tiberias, Beit
She’an, Hatzor Haglilit or Kiryat Shmona aren’t prime real estate. Their
less-than-well-off residents do not have the wherewithal to finance their own
projects, while profit-seeking contractors are unlikely to invest in locations
where sales of new apartments won’t net much.
Prof. David Yankelevsky of
the Technion’s Civil Engineering Faculty charges that “TAMA-38 is no plan. It
provides no guidelines on how to quake-proof buildings, on which buildings should
be reinforced, etc.” Moreover, most folks cannot assess the sturdiness of their
homes. Many are loath to rely on the opinions of contractors with vested
Urgently needed is a publicly-financed, disinterested, broad
and universally available framework that would objectively survey all pre-1980
buildings and suggest to residents what can plausibly be done to quake-proof
Obviously, merely dispensing practical advice costs money – to say
nothing of retrofitting old structures. But it is better than any alternative.
Knowledge is a vital first step.