Audit: Municipalities ill-prepared for emergencies

5 years after Second Lebanon War, harsh report describes ‘a bleak picture of continued failure,’ urges authorities to act.

A girl stands inside a bomb shelter in Ashkelon 311 (R) (photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)
A girl stands inside a bomb shelter in Ashkelon 311 (R)
(photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss revealed on Tuesday a litany of home front failures, which he said leave Israelis vulnerable in the case of war or attack.
Between August 2010 and April 2011, Lindenstrauss examined the municipalities of Or Yehuda, Hod Hasharon, Yavne, Kiryat Malachi, Ofakim, Tamra and Majd al-Kurum for home front preparedness.RELATED:
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The results were uniformly damning: Five years after the Second Lebanon War, hundreds of thousands of Israelis lack access to emergency bomb shelters, local authorities have not been trained to deal with specific threats and many schools and kindergartens lack adequate bomb protection.
Bomb shelters in many local areas are in an appalling state, said the report, which was presented to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin. Many more shelters suffer from a shortage of basic facilities including rubber sealing, sewage pumps and even doors. Still more were found to be unconnected to the electricity grid, and many suffered from severe damp.
Even more seriously, many shelters are not equipped with emergency supplies, including essential fire-fighting materials, the report found.
All of the shelters in the southern city of Ofakim, west of Beersheba, which suffered Grad rocket attacks from Gaza in January, were found to have substantial defects – 10 have no toilet facilities and 41 are without emergency lighting. The city’s shelters were so bad that they were unfit for use, Lindenstrauss said.
The audit also revealed that shelters in many municipalities are inaccessible to people with disabilities, and that some local authorities had not prepared any plans for evacuating people with special needs.
Ofakim was cited again, as Lindenstrauss found 38 public shelters did not have disabled access and noted that many more had unclear access capabilities.
In response, Ofakim’s Mayor Zvika Greengold said financial difficulties had prevented the municipality from making its shelters accessible to those with special needs.
In Yavne, which also lacked shelters with disabled access, municipal officials said the city special needs population” as its shelters were built in the 1950s and cannot be adapted for disabled access. However, the city said people with disabilities would be given evacuation assistance in case of emergencies.
The report also slammed the Interior Ministry’s Emergency Division, the Home Front Command and the National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA), the special body in charge of dealing with the home front established in 2007 in the wake of the Second Lebanon War, which comes under the auspices of the Defense Ministry’s Home Front Defense office.
Referring to those agencies, Lindenstrauss said there is “a concern that there are some [people] among the bodies responsible for preparing local authorities for emergencies who are trying to shirk their responsibilities, including that of allocating considerable financial resources and manpower.”
With regard to disabled access to shelters, Lindenstrauss noted that in its response to the audit, NEMA and the Home Front Command said local authorities are responsible for the issue, whereas the Interior Ministry pointed its finger at the Welfare Ministry.
The Welfare Ministry told The Jerusalem Post that the responsibility for the bomb shelters, including accessibility for people with disabilities, lies with local authorities.
Lindenstrauss called on the government bodies and authorities to work together.
“Time is short, and there is much to be done,” added the state comptroller. “Decisionmakers must determine as soon as possible which body is responsible for preparing local authorities for emergencies, including authorizing all necessary resources.”
In his report, the state comptroller called on local authorities to formulate procedures for dealing with emergencies, including examining the needs of the disabled, and to file reports on how they plan to improve shelters. The Home Front Command must also carry out frequent audit reports on shelter maintenance, Lindenstrauss recommended.
Moreover, the Home Front Command came under fire in the report for failing to maintain data regarding the location, condition and number of public and private bomb shelters in each municipality, including shelters in public buildings such as schools and those in private homes and apartment blocks.
The state comptroller said that in many local areas there is a deficit of public and private shelters, including in schools and other public buildings.
“As a result, hundreds of thousands of residents of these local authorities lack emergency shelters,” Lindenstrauss said.
With regard to helping local authorities prepare for emergencies, Lindenstrauss said the Home Front Command has failed to develop training scenarios for specific threats, while NEMA has yet to devise metrics determining municipalities’ overall home front preparedness.
The state comptroller also blasted the Home Front Command for failing to establish procedures for coordination between government offices, the army, local authorities and voluntary groups in case of war and other emergency scenarios.
The Interior Ministry, which Lindenstrauss emphasized is also responsible for home front preparedness, was criticized for several failures, including failure to maintain data regarding which local authorities conducted emergency practice exercises in 2008-2010, and for not formulating evacuation procedures, including a computerized system to manage contact with evacuated citizens.
Lindenstrauss noted that local authorities are unaware of how to work with the Interior Ministry to evacuate populations and called on them to cooperate with the ministry to establish evacuation measures. Lindenstrauss also recommended that local authorities increase the number of volunteers prepared to help in emergencies.
In response to the report, the Interior Ministry said the responsibility for evacuating civilians lies with the police and the Home Front Command, and added that it has not been granted direct powers to prepare local authorities for emergencies or set guidelines to do so.
The ministry added that its computing division is developing a new system for managing contact with evacuated populations, expected to be ready by the end of the year.
Lindenstrauss also criticized the Interior Ministry for failing to allocate sufficient funds to local authorities to purchase emergency equipment from 2004 to 2006, and added that even though the ministry’s assistance budget doubled in 2010, local authorities did not receive enough funds.
In response, the Interior Ministry complained of significant budget reductions from 2004- 2008, and said the allocated budget did not even cover its Emergency Division’s expenditures and salaries, but noted that the Emergency Division has since prepared a three-year plan to reduce local authorities’ budget gaps.
The state comptroller also found that 17 local authorities – 13 of them Arab towns – lacked appropriate warehouse facilities for emergency equipment storage, a failure which was partly attributed to the Interior Ministry.
The Interior Ministry said that there is a particular problem in Arab municipalities with locating land on which to construct emergency storage rooms, but noted that it is working with the Israel Lands Authority to address the issue, and added that by 2013 all local authorities will have emergency storage rooms.
In its response to the report, NEMA said that Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai had personally taken responsibility after the Second Lebanon War for home front rehabilitation, but added that the government had yet to allocate the necessary financial resources to properly evaluate home front preparedness.
NEMA also noted that in the four years since its establishment, it has made recommendations – including to establish an emergency department in all local authorities – and has also initiated a pilot project to train civilian rescue units based in local authorities.
The authority is currently preparing a comprehensive program to look at civil defense and protection options for Israeli cities, which it says includes a study of public and private bomb shelters.
NEMA added that since 2010, the agency has begun an administrative project with the Interior Ministry and the Home Front Command to establish responsibilities with regard to local authorities.
Also on Tuesday, MK Ze’ev Bielski (Kadima), chairman of Readiness of the Home Front, a subcommittee of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to evaluate the situation.
“The State Comptroller’s Report showed severe failures,” Bielski said, repeating a warning he issued in August. “The lessons of the Carmel Fire have not been implemented, the Home Front is still vulnerable and is not ready for another natural disaster or attack.”