Is Israel prepared for the worst?

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

Earthquake GEN 224.88 (photo credit: )
Earthquake GEN 224.88
(photo credit: )
On Tuesday, the tropical country of Haiti experienced an earthquake with a magnitude of 7 on the Richter scale. Statistically speaking, Israel is likely to experience an earthquake of similar magnitude, sometime in the next 50 years. "We know for certain that it will happen in Israel and we know that as time goes on, the chances of it taking place in our lifetimes is greater," said Dr. Avi Shapira, the head of the government steering committee for earthquake preparedness.
The last major earthquake to occur in the region was a 6.2 magnitude quake, which took place 100 kilometers south of Eilat in 1995. The last fatal earthquake took place in 1927 and was also measured at 6.2 in the Richter scale. Nearly 500 people were killed.
Israel's eastern border runs along one of the world's seismic hotspots, the Syrian-African rift fault line. With the average time-span between earthquakes on the same scale in the regions standing at 80 years, geology experts agree that Israel is long overdue for the next major earthquake and that it can happen at any time. Even with the best available equipment notice will be short.
This poses a significant threat to population centers in the country, since many buildings in Israel were erected prior to the formulation of earthquake-resistant construction codes. The government's response to the danger, approved in 2005, is a national readiness program called Tama 38.
Tama 38 authorizes renovation permits to buildings whose plans were approved prior to 1980, the time when strict building codes were established. The idea behind the program is that by giving building owners incentives in terms of tax breaks on renovations or adding apartments, the owners will improve the building's resistance to earthquakes, the assumption being that it is the crumbling buildings and not the earthquakes themselves that lead to fatalities.
One of the ways in which a building can be strengthened is by enclosing its first floor. Many older buildings in Israel are built on columns, which geologists say are an obvious hazard. Another is by installing an elevator shaft, which adds strength and stability to older buildings.
Apart from Tama 38, which is meant to reduce the damage caused by earthquakes, emergency services are all trained to respond in a case of a major earthquake. If such a quake takes place primary responsibility will be granted to the Home Front Command. The following is the Home Front Command's list of recommended instructions on 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 and relief units will have difficulty accessing every area, and certainly every house. Preparing an emergency bag will allow you to survive for 24 to 72 hours, until help arrives.
Most casualties in an earthquake are caused by collapse of shelves and heavy objects or by fire and gas leaks. Therefore, it is advisable to take the trouble today and do the following home preparations:
  • 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 some emergency gear and store it in an accessible place, such as the protected space. It should include: Food and water - a stock of drinking water (at least 4 liters per person) and preserved ready-to-use food (of the kind routinely stored in homes). Refresh the stock from time to time before it reaches expiry.
  • Essential equipment: A first aid kit, battery-operated light source and radio, essential medicines, spare eyeglasses, baby products.
  • Important documents: Hard or electronic copies of medical documents, identification papers, personal and financial documents, to be stored outside the house, as backup.
  • Aftershocks: Be prepared for secondary tremors (aftershocks). They can appear within minutes, days or even months following an earthquake and may collapse structures weakened by the main quake.