State Comptroller: Infrastructure unprepared for extreme weather

Shapira called upon the Energy Ministry to complete all necessary infrastructural adjustments so that the country can be ready for future emergency situations.

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira‏ (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
State Comptroller Joseph Shapira‏
Despite improvements made after previous severe weather, the country’s infrastructure remains ill equipped to handle blizzards and other natural crises, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira found Wednesday in a special report.
Evaluating performance of the country’s electricity and transportation authorities, as well as local municipalities and councils, Shapira examined whether lessons learned during the “unusually strong” December 2013 blizzard and January-February 2015 wintry weather were properly implemented.
The December 2013 storm was particularly injurious to the electricity sector, resulting in NIS 82 million worth of damage and power disconnections for 60,000 customers – mainly affecting the Safed and Jerusalem areas, Shapira wrote. The state comptroller audited the performance of the National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Ministry, the Israel Electric Corporation and other bodies from July 2014 to March 2015.
“An intact and flowing power supply is essential to the economy in both routine and emergency times,” he wrote.
Looking at lessons learned from the 2013 snowstorm, the state comptroller says that the IEC has not yet fully implemented its resultant emergency preparedness plans at its *103 service center, which should be capable of responding to peak call traffic during states of emergency. Noting that many incoming calls went ignored during the storm, he demanded that the IEC complete a comprehensive plan for upgrading the center.
Meanwhile, Shapira criticized the Energy Ministry for failing to publish an up-todate industry-wide master plan for the electricity sector.
The ministry must do so, stipulating how to minimize damage from the elements and enable the rapid deployment of work to fix damaged power lines, he wrote.
Reacting to the state comptroller’s evaluation, the IEC emphasizes that its employees worked constantly and professionally during the emergencies, in order to revive disconnected power supplies.
Specifically regarding its *103 service center, the IEC says that during the December 2013 storm, the company “provided a huge and unprecedented response,” involving massive manpower reinforcements and advanced technology.
In times of emergency, members of the public can also contact the IEC through social media, the company adds.
The Energy Ministry says it will “continue to work vigorously for the good of the state and its citizens, will examine the audit’s findings seriously and responsibly and will act to implement all necessary solutions to resolve the issues.”
Shifting focus from electricity to transportation, the state comptroller looked at emergency preparedness in the aftermath of the December 2013 blizzard, which caused the closure of major roads and prompted both private and public traffic disruptions.
Auditing the Transportation Ministry and other relevant transportation bodies from October 2014 to February 2015, Shapira finds that no regulations exist to govern public transportation operation in non-war emergency situations, such as snowstorms or earthquakes.
Problems identified during the December 2013 storm, such as the inability of Netivei Israel National Transport Infrastructure Company Ltd.
to deploy emergency teams quickly enough, are still not resolved, the state comptroller wrote. Although the Transportation Ministry has required Netivei Israel to take responsibility over emergency management of intercity highways, no legal precedent grants the company the authority to mobilize privately contracted work teams, Shapira adds.
In response to the state comptroller’s criticisms, the Transportation Ministry stresses that the 2013 blizzard “was characterized by frequent changes in real-time, which made the transfer of information from the headquarters to the field difficult.”
During the December 2013 and January 2015 winter storms, situation rooms were activated in coordination with the Israel Police, the ministry explains. Meanwhile, the Public Transportation Authority is finalizing emergency procedures, to be published later this year, the statement adds.
In addition to focusing on electricity and transportation, Shapira also looks at how local authorities around the country are equipped to cope with snowstorms, fires and floods.
The State Comptroller’s Office audited a number of municipalities from November 2014 to March 2015, focusing on their adaptation of lessons learned from the December 2013 snowstorm and the December 2010 Mount Carmel forest fire.
Regarding snow preparedness, Shapira credits a few local authorities with effectively updating procedures and plans for wintry events. He praised Jerusalem, Safed, Beit Jann and the Mateh Yehuda Regional Council for absorbing lessons learned from the December 2013 storm, although he stressed that they had not finished implementing those from the 2015 snowfall.
While the state comptroller’s view on the readiness of local authorities to handle wintry weather events is not entirely bleak, he finds many deficiencies in their ability to cope with floods and fires.
Concerning floods, Shapira finds that some local authorities lack any master plan for drainage at all, while others have not updated existing plans.
With respect to fires, some local authorities have not prepared buffer zones or peripheral roads for firefighting vehicles and necessary water installations, he wrote.
Also problematic when combating fires and other emergency weather situations is the lack of a unified legislative arrangement for national preparedness and a clearly defined division of responsibilities, according to Shapira.