Home front 298.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A civilian command similar to FEMA in the US would better serve the Israeli public in any emergency situation, military or otherwise, than the current Home Front Command.
The state of civilian infrastructure that exists now should be overhauled. The Home Front Command is a military structure, and therefore has difficulty meeting civilians' needs.
In theory, a military command should work better. A chain of command gives detailed orders, which soldiers then follow. The problem is, however, that civilians are not soldiers. Civilians do not follow orders. Before taking any action, they may first consult with family and friends and decide what they want to do. Civilian structures know how to better deal with civilians.
FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, provides a positive example for Israel to follow. FEMA cannot usurp local authorities as a military command can in Israel. With FEMA, a mayor can ask the organization for 500 trucks, and he will get it with the help of the army. In Israel, the army would come in and take over. FEMA, of course, can also be inept, as happened during Hurricane Katrina.
Israel's Home Front Command came into being after the first Gulf War. It replaced Haga, which in turn was based on the British Civil Defense of London during World War II. The previous model can still provide some guidance.
Terror groups like Hamas may currently use small rockets, but the possibility of a bigger bombardment exists. Hamas, Hizbullah, Syria and even Iran can be counted on to use more powerful missiles in the future. Therefore, the example of London during WWII still provides a military precedent, although the answers might be different.
Neglect of civil defense has been rampant in recent years. Shelters throughout the country have not been maintained. Israel began to believe she was a normal country. So, right now, when a mayor cannot even pay his employees, he won't put money into shelters.
In last summer's war, the upper echelons of the Israeli government could have chosen to declare a regional state of emergency, but they decided not to. If declared, then the emergency structures require a lot of budgetary resources, which the government might not have been willing to spend. Also, it means giving authority to the military, and the Defense and Interior Ministries, all of whom can wield a lot of power in such a situation.
In a state of emergency, the government can wield dictatorial powers, a prospect that might have scared the government last summer. Among the powers is enacting a WWII-style war production board where essential factories can be so designated and their workers will not be drafted. These powers were put in place when Israel was poor and lacked resources, so they gave teeth to emergency structures. They should be redone.
Civilian structures should do the work. There is not merely the threat of a military attack, but also natural and industrial disasters like earthquakes or explosions and chemical leaks. Military structures no longer are sufficient, although they can be helpful due to their available manpower. A civilian structure encompassing all of civilian emergency organizations that could mobilize military manpower if needed should be created.
A model like FEMA would serve the Israeli public better, provided that adequate budgets were made available and creative leadership could be found to direct such an agency.
Prof. Hayim Granot is an emergency affairs and civil defense expert. He headed an emergency planning project at Bar-Ilan University throughout the 1980s and 1990s that trained local authority security officers, did research and made instructional materials. Prof. Granot was involved in emergency planning from 1975 through 2003, when he retired. He still teaches crises intervention courses.