Is Israel prepared for the worst?

Gov't warns of Haiti-like magnitude earthquake within next 50 years.

Haiti dead (photo credit: AP)
Haiti dead
(photo credit: AP)
On Tuesday, the tropical country of Haitiexperienced an earthquake with a magnitude of 7 on the Richter scale.Statistically speaking, Israel is likely to experience an earthquake ofsimilar magnitude, sometime in the next 50 years. "We know for certainthat it will happen in Israel and we know that as time goes on, thechances of it taking place in our lifetimes is greater," said Dr. AviShapira, the head of the government steering committee for earthquakepreparedness.

The last major earthquake to occur in the regionwas a 6.2 magnitude quake, which took place 100 kilometers south ofEilat in 1995. The last fatal earthquake took place in 1927 and wasalso measured at 6.2 in the Richter scale. Nearly 500 people werekilled.

Israel's eastern border runs along one of the world's seismichotspots, the Syrian-African rift fault line. With the averagetime-span between earthquakes on the same scale in the regions standingat 80 years, geology experts agree that Israel is long overdue for thenext major earthquake and that it can happen at any time. Even with thebest available equipment notice will be short.

This poses a significant threat to population centers in thecountry, since many buildings in Israel were erected prior to theformulation of earthquake-resistant construction codes. Thegovernment's response to the danger, approved in 2005, is a nationalreadiness program called Tama 38.

Tama 38 authorizes renovation permits to buildingswhose plans were approved prior to 1980, the time when strict buildingcodes were established. The idea behind the program is that by givingbuilding owners incentives in terms of tax breaks on renovations oradding apartments, the owners will improve the building's resistance toearthquakes, the assumption being that it is the crumbling buildingsand not the earthquakes themselves that lead to fatalities.

One of the ways in which a building can be strengthened is byenclosing its first floor. Many older buildings in Israel are built oncolumns, which geologists say are an obvious hazard. Another is byinstalling an elevator shaft, which adds strength and stability toolder buildings.

Apart from Tama 38, which is meant to reduce thedamage caused by earthquakes, emergency services are all trained torespond in a case of a major earthquake. If such a quake takes placeprimary responsibility will be granted to the Home Front Command. Thefollowing is the Home Front Command's list of recommended instructionson how to prepare for and act in the case of an earthquake:

Initial preparations:

  • Locate a safe place in your home, far from exterior walls. If your home has a MAMAD, it is preferable than any other room.
  • Show all members of the household where the main electrical breakers and main water and gas valves are, and how to close them.
  • Familiarize yourself with the emergency exits, if there are any.
  • Establish a meeting point for family members in case the earthquake takes place when you are in different locations.

    Any object which can move, fall or break, is a source of danger. Make sure you perform thorough home preparations.

    Earthquakes damage infrastructure - roads are demolished,electrical and telephone cables tear and water pipes burst. Rescue andrelief units will have difficulty accessing every area, and certainlyevery house. Preparing an emergency bag will allow you to survive for24 to 72 hours, until help arrives.

    Most casualties in an earthquake are caused by collapse ofshelves and heavy objects or by fire and gas leaks. Therefore, it isadvisable to take the trouble today and do the following homepreparations:

  • Attach bookshelves, cupboards and television sets to walls.
  • Reinforce supports of water boilers, heater tanks, gas bottles, air conditioners and their compressor units.
  • Store hazardous and flammable materials under lock and key and far from heat sources; place heavy objects as low as possible.
  • Household emergency equipment: Prepare in advance someemergency gear and store it in an accessible place, such as theprotected space. It should include: Food and water - a stock ofdrinking water (at least 4 liters per person) and preservedready-to-use food (of the kind routinely stored in homes). Refresh thestock from time to time before it reaches expiry.
  • Essential equipment: A first aid kit, battery-operatedlight source and radio, essential medicines, spare eyeglasses, babyproducts.
  • Important documents: Hard or electronic copies ofmedical documents, identification papers, personal and financialdocuments, to be stored outside the house, as backup.
  • Aftershocks: Be prepared for secondary tremors(aftershocks). They can appear within minutes, days or even monthsfollowing an earthquake and may collapse structures weakened by themain quake.