Israel Forges National Plan for Contending With Earthquakes

National Emergency Authority formulates contingency plan for earthquakes that could cause upward of 7,000 deaths.

The National Emergency Authority (NEA), which operates under the aegis of the Home Front Defense Ministry, recently completed formulating a first-ever national master plan for contending with a large-scale earthquake in Israel. The plan includes the initial rehabilitation stages of population sectors left homeless in the quake.

The plan is designed to address a scenario in which an earthquake causes at least 7,000 deaths. It determines that Israel would operate on an emergency footing, issue subsistence allowances to citizens and set maximum prices for critical goods in order to contend with the resultant economic distress.

In the estimate of the NEA, Israel requires a deployment framework adequate for an earthquake of a magnitude that would result in approximately 10,000 residents trapped in buildings, in which 28,000 buildings would sustain heavy damage and another 290,000 buildings would sustain light to moderate damage.

In the NEA scenario, during the first few days there would be a need to identify and bury thousands of dead each day.  In subsequent days hundreds of bodies, harder to identify, would be uncovered on a daily basis.

Heavy damage would affect all sorts of infrastructure systems. Experts predict ruptures in main water lines, a general shutdown of cellular communications lines in the center and north for a period of 36 hours, and disruption in the capacity to transfer fuel to Ben-Gurion Airport and the power stations.

In numerous towns and villages, residents would be left without electricity for at least two weeks. One-fifth of food factories and one-fifth of retail sales facilities would be closed. Damage to dangerous materials facilities is possibility, such as leaks in the ammonia facility in Haifa which could result in the poisoning of hundreds of people.

According to the scenario, one week after the earthquake 14,000 persons would remain unaccounted for and about 170,000 would not yet have a roof over their heads. If the requisite steps are taken, the NEA estimates that only one-third of the latter would remain homeless after a two-month period.

According to the contingency plan, roughly two hours after any such incident, the Israeli government would issue a pre-prepared video appeal to countries around the world for aid in the rescue effort, to provide medical equipment and assistance in the rebuilding of infrastructures.

It is estimated that the airports would be able to continue operating and that Ben-Gurion Airport, the port at Ashdod and several land border crossings would operate around the clock during the first month after the earthquake.

Immediately after the earthquake, the army would assume command of rescue and assistance operations. In the initial response stage (36 hours after the earthquake), rescue trapped individuals would be carried out on the basis of the abilities of authorities out in the field, mainly through the efforts of local councils and citizens themselves.

Gradually, the level of assistance available from larger organizations would be expanded. The state would be divided into disaster districts, to which most of the assistance would be funneled.

In the initial response stage, Israel would prepare for the absorption of refugees in public buildings, hotels and hostels outside the disaster zone, but later on there would be a need for building tent cities.

The state would operate according to a "period of crisis economy" and would allocate subsistence allowances to persons whose homes were destroyed. The Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry would set maximum prices for critical goods, in order to prevent price gouging.

The next stage referred to in the master plan is entitled "initial population rehabilitation stage." Disinfection would be carried out in regions affected by the earthquake in order to prevent the outbreak of disease, as well as rehabilitation of basic infrastructures and demolition of structures that pose danger.

During this stage, the temporary burial of bodies would take place, but only after specimens are taken for the purpose of future identification. The master plan calls for the administration of local councils that have been hard hit and that cannot function to be transferred to adjacent local councils that are in better condition. The police would set up a national information center for coordination of data on the missing and the dead.

According to Minister Benny Begin, the cabinet minister responsible for coordination of earthquake preparations, the master plan is part of a series of steps recently taken to address the issue. Begin cited a large-scale exercise that the IDF Home Front Command plans to hold several months from now, in which earthquake preparations will be drilled.

"We are also working to implement the cabinet decision to create an early-warning system that will be operational by 2014," Begin added.

He referred to a system that is will receive real-time data on potential earthquakes from seismological stations, and broadcast an alert to those regions liable to sustain damage from the waves of destruction.

Such a system could offer a warning period of tens of seconds (based on the distance from the epicenter), a period of time that would be sufficient for escape from structures or prevention of damage to the control systems of critical infrastructures. This sort of system already exists in 15 countries.