Israel must implement lessons from Brazil dam tragedy to disasters at home

Commander of Israel's Search and Rescue Unit Col.Golan Vach: You need to think ahead to save lives.

The IDF delegation helping recover bodies after a dam disaster in Brazil  (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
The IDF delegation helping recover bodies after a dam disaster in Brazil
Israel needs to take what Home Front Command’s Search and Rescue Unit learned in Brazil and apply it to environmental disasters at home, its commander, Col. (res.) Golan Vach, recently told The Jerusalem Post.
“We always have to save lives, but we don’t know everything,” he said. “But we can take what we learned from the tragedy in Brazil and how we worked together and apply it here.”
Over the past week, Israel has been hit by two severe and deadly winter storms that caused flash flooding across the country. At least six people died, including a young couple who drowned in an elevator that had short-circuited in Tel Aviv. Several others lost their lives when their cars were swept away by storm waters in the North and South.
National and municipal rescue teams scrambled to help people trapped in the floods.
While the responsibility of rescuing citizens from scenarios caused by winter storms falls to the Israel Police and the Fire and Rescue Services, the IDF deployed military vehicles, and troops from Home Front Command, the Armored Corps, Artillery, Infantry and Navy were mobilized to help.
The IDF allocated many soldiers to the relief efforts in Nahariya, where one man died in the flooding, Galilee Division Commander Brig.-Gen. Shlomi Binder said Wednesday. Troops also helped evacuate students from a flooded school in the city.
While all agencies – the police, firefighters, IDF and others – work very well together, there needs to be even better integration during episodes of increment weather, Vach said.
The rescue services “are extremely professional,” but “sometimes there are things that go above their heads, and the country needs to know what to do,” he said.
There are several “hot spots” susceptible to flooding, Vach said, such as the Ga’aton Stream in the Galilee, where the body of Motti Ben-Shabbat, 32, of Nahariya was found after he was swept away in Nahariya trying to rescue people from a flooded car.
“It’s nothing new that it floods every year,” he said, adding that the country must invest in proper infrastructure surrounding the stream and have the proper capabilities ready to deal with future events.
“You have to be able to think ahead of tragedies, of where there are areas that could be at risk, like underground parking structures that have flooded in the past or communities that are at more at risk,” he said. “There is a lot more the country has to do to be 100%.”
There needs to be a better integration of all agencies – the police, firefighters, IDF and others – during episodes of increment weather, Vach said.
“There is a need for all the agencies to sit together and prepare themselves to make sure that there are no deaths during bad weather. And we can do that,” he said.
“If, at the end of the day, if you want something specific to happen, you need to make sure it happens in the field,” Vach said. “You can’t just write that you learned [something]. The paper won’t be there in the next fire or next flood. But the unit that you built after a tragedy will be there.” He cited the aerial firefighting squadron of 14 planes that was created after the Carmel fire disaster in 2010.
With the stormy weather expected to continue into next week, Vach hopes a future tragedy will be prevented.
“We must learn because we have to make sure that no one else loses their lives,” he said. “When I’m sent abroad, I bring the best of the best in the country, and that’s why we are so successful.”
“When you go on a date, you put on makeup and look as best as you can,” Vach said. “But when you go home, you wear your pajamas and don’t really care how you look. It’s the same in this scenario. But I want to look as good as I am abroad back home. I want Israel to be the best all the time, not just abroad.”