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Israeli society needs a "culture of preparedness."

May 26, 2010 15:52
3 minute read.
Turning Point 4 national civil defense exercise th

IDFDrill311. (photo credit: IDF Spokesman)


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This year has been declared the “Year of Preparedness,” with the national emergency exercise taking place this week representing its peak. There is no doubt that since the Second Lebanon War in 2006, a revolution in national preparedness for times of crisis has transpired. However, in all that relates to cultivating a culture of preparedness in civil society and harnessing civil society to bolster national resilience, we have advanced at a turtle’s pace.

Times of statewide crisis will introduce an immense gap between the expectations and needs of citizens, on the one hand, and the abilities and resources of the emergency authorities, which include the National Emergency Agency, the Home Front Command, different rescue services, the organizations specializing in emergency fields and the local municipalities, on the other. Only civil society – associations and businesses, nonprofit organizations, youth and volunteer movements, universities and philanthropists – can fill this gap.

The building blocks of civil resilience are laid out at our feet: thousands of entities, tens of thousands of volunteers and hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens. All that is required is to gather, harness, train and organize them. These are individuals brimming with motivation, willing to mobilize in times of emergency and angry at not yet having been recruited for this effort.

WHY THEN is a culture of preparedness yet to be embedded? Because the hierarchical and centralized worldview of the emergency authorities, as manifest over the course of this year and in the context of the national emergency exercise this week, is detached from civil society. The emergency authorities focus on improving the preparedness and professionalism of their units, while embedding preparedness requires consciousness raising and instilling core basic abilities in key civil society units whose ongoing activities are disconnected from the world of emergency situations. While the main driver of action in the emergency authorities is the discipline of the mostly government employees comprising it, a culture of preparedness requires drawing upon tools of inspiration, harnessing, recruitment and empowerment among those motivated by national responsibility.

Therefore, instead of memorizing guidelines, it is
important to talk about values. Instead of designating information as classified, it should be shared with the public. Instead of investing in the connectivity of each and every unit to the local municipality, the different units should be connected to each other to consolidate a network comprising thousands of units, harnessed to a vision of resilience, possessing core basic abilities, and interconnected through tens of thousands of links.

Furthermore, the first steps of a journey to consolidate such a network does not entail costs of any kind, but relies merely on encouraging self-regulation, standardizing regulation and enacting legislation. Harnessing youth movements is an important step in the right direction, but that alone does not even represent the tip of the iceberg of resources concealed within the civil resilience network.

The nonprofit sector is a good example. Thousands of “essential nonprofit service providers” that provide food, health and welfare services to hundreds of thousands of Israelis must continue to function in times of emergency in the service of local and national resilience. However, for them to be integrated into the civil resilience network, it is necessary to clarify the conditions that will ensure their continued operation in a crisis and turn these conditions into binding standards. While many of the organizations will operate according to such standards of their own volition, the state must condition its financial support of these organizations on implementing the standards and encourage philanthropists to do the same.

Several weeks ago, I lectured on civil resilience in a course focused on crises. Most of the students in attendance belong to the emergency authorities in a professional capacity or in army reserve duty. During my lecture, it emerged that only one person (!) in the class had prepared his home and family for an emergency situation based on the Home Front Command’s recommendations. This is a single case, however it unfortunately reflects the enormity of the effort required to instill a culture of preparedness.

There is no doubt that the national emergency exercise will reveal the immense improvement in the emergency authorities’ preparedness. But the next national emergency exercise needs to reflect a leapfrogging in the culture of preparedness of the entire civil society. The year 2011 should be the “Year of the Culture of Preparedness.”

The writer is the founder and president of the Reut Institute, which recently published the report “Civil Resilience Network: Conceptual Framework for Israel’s Local and National Resilience.”

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