Comment: Being there first requires being the best

It’s no wonder that the other, smaller, independent first-response organizations in Israel are required to follow MDA standards.

Magen David Adom in Nepal (photo credit: MAGEN DAVID ADOM)
Magen David Adom in Nepal
(photo credit: MAGEN DAVID ADOM)
The scenes of devastation and carnage following Saturday’s earthquake in Nepal have been utterly heart-wrenching.
No matter how many of these events we bear witness to, they never cease to leave us wondering: “Why?” But amid the ruins, we’re reminded of human beings’ ability to react to, if not prevent, such disasters. And in Kathmandu that spirit took the form of dozens of Israeli babies, born to surrogate Nepalese women, who were rescued, treated and evacuated to Israel by Magen David Adom. If you saw the photos of these infants, their little, fragile bodies coddled by MDA paramedics in makeshift nurseries, your heart couldn’t help but melt. And then, when they arrived in Israel, your soul couldn’t help but burst with pride.
It’s been a week since the devastating earthquake rocked Nepal, and Israel has once again, shown that it is on the forefront of the international community’s response to humanitarian crises around the world. Leading that charge, along with the IDF, is MDA, which was among the first emergency-response agencies on the ground in Kathmandu, less than 24 hours after the earthquake hit.
But being first to the scene of an emergency is never enough.
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You have to be the best once you’re there. And that’s especially true when dealing with extraordinary situations like trying to create sanitary conditions to feed newborns in fields of rubble and chaos. The best emergency responders in the world will tell you that arriving in “seconds” or “minutes” means nothing if you’re not effective. Proof of that efficiency is that every Israeli victim that MDA treated, including the babies, were cared for and safely evacuated to Israel.
But MDA’s response in Nepal was not only effective, tactically, it was also guided by a sense of purpose. It’s MDA’s mandate and responsibility to be a light unto the nations, so being “the best” also means sharing its expertise with the world and leading by example, in this case treating scores of Nepalese civilians, working with local doctors, and teaming up with international agencies to save lives.
MDA’s team of nine paramedics balanced the best kind of moral and medicinal expertise.
There’s only one way to achieve that level of expertise: experience.
Over the years, MDA’s swift and determined response to mass-casualty scenarios has become world-renown.
Becoming the world’s leading mass-casualty response organization, however, wasn’t a goal of the organization. It was a necessity, a level of proficiency it was compelled to attain as a result of the second intifada. What we see in Nepal is the result of MDA’s experiences saving lives in the streets of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Netanya and throughout Israel during the intifada years of bus bombings and suicide attacks.
Experience has made MDA the sought-after, world-class organization it is today. So it’s no wonder that the other, smaller, independent first-response organizations in Israel are required to follow MDA standards and that, in the United States and around the world, EMS agencies have modeled protocols and technology to emulate MDA’s.
But MDA’s success in Nepal is not just the byproduct of experience. It also comes as a result of its historic and enduring partnership with Americans.
MDA is not a line item in the government’s annual budget, so all of the innovations it deploys to save lives – from its ambulances, Medicyles and helicopters to the state-of-theart equipment and training MDA first-responders utilize every day, comes from decades of American donors’ support.
So as MDA sifted through the rubble to save lives, Americans can look on with pride, knowing they helped make those efforts possible.
This latest international disaster has proven what many of us have always known: Israel is there to help those in need, anywhere in the world. MDA not only sprints to the scene of a disaster, it prepares for the marathon of doing whatever it takes for as long as it takes to help save lives. And that kind of approach to medicine and tikkun olam (repairing the world) requires the rarest of combinations: speed and experience. And the images of rescued babies only serves to remind us what being “the best” truly requires.
Arnold Gerson is CEO of American Friends of Magen David Adom.