Quake advance warning system passes hurdle

Budget allocated to reinforce buildings and installations; advance warning censors would be able to detect the first infinitesimal tremors.

Beit Shean  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Beit Shean
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A large-scale earthquake in Israel is only a matter of time. Whether its epicenter is at Beit Shean in the Jordan Valley or Haifa on the coast, Israel is scrambling to bring its preparedness up to speed to prevent as much damage as possible.
Earthquakes in California, for instance, show that building techniques and sensors can greatly minimize loss of life and damages.
The latest step is the approval of the creation of a nationwide advance warning sensor system. The sensors would be able to detect the first infinitesimal tremors and provide seconds or even dozens of seconds of warning.
The system would be able to detect the center of the earthquake almost immediately, and monitor the tremors throughout the country during the course of the earthquake.
The Ministers Committee to Prepare for Earthquakes recently approved National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau’s (Israel Beiteinu) proposal to create such a system, the ministry said Tuesday. The decision gives the committee’s chairman one year to present a detailed plan to create the system.
An early warning system would help pinpoint shaky buildings, identify where elevators might be affected, and enable implementation of procedures to secure hazardous materials. Similar systems are already in place in the US, Japan, Mexico, Turkey and elsewhere.
According to an initial readiness survey, the system would cost NIS 20 million to build and another NIS 500,000 per year to maintain. The specific technology is already available in Israel, the survey also found.
Landau also won approval for another proposal to budget NIS 100m. over the next five years to the ministries who sit on the committee. The funds would go toward reinforcing buildings and installations, threat assessment, first response frameworks, and public awareness campaigns.
In addition, another NIS 100m. would be divided among first to respond.
The emergency branch of the Health Ministry would receive NIS 2.5m. a year, firefighters NIS 4.8m. and the Israel Police NIS 12.7m.
The committee’s annual budget has been between NIS 2.5m. and NIS 4m. a year.
With that much smaller sum, the committee has updated building codes, expanded the knowledge base about the dangers of earthquakes, first responder regulations have been drawn up, largescale exercises have been carried out as well as other activities, the ministry said.
The increased budget was approved by the committee over the objections of the Treasury.
In April, the ministry updated the preparedness plan for the government.
Israel has experienced a sizable earthquake every 100 years and a massive one every 400 years. It has been more than 400 years since Israel was last seized by a massive quake.
The scenario that planners use is a major quake of 7.5 on the Richter scale (similar to that which struck Haiti in January) with its epicenter at Beit Shean.
The Syria-African rift, an area of seismic activity, runs right through the Jordan Valley.
In such a quake, the scenario predicts 16,000 dead, 6,000 severely injured, 377,000 displaced, 10,000 buildings destroyed and 20,000 buildings heavily damaged.