earthquake - Alon Ron - December 6 2010
Rescue workers practicing for an earthquake in Tel Aviv in October. Photo by Alon Ron
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The 2011 budget of the inter-ministerial steering committee that deals with earthquake preparedness is zero: There is no funding whatsoever, despite the fact that the committee submitted a request for money for, among other things, civil rescue units, a warning system, data collection, earthquake-risk assessments, and public education and information efforts. A ministerial committee approved the budget, but the cabinet has yet to do so, so the committee in question will begin the new year with nothing.

Of 3,500 public buildings that have been identified as dangerous thus far, 200 were designated as needing urgent reinforcement - including 180 schools as well as hospitals, fire and police stations.

In addition, about 20 percent of residential buildings in the country do not conform to earthquake-resistant standards and are at risk of collapse. Despite the alarm that has been sounded as a result of a number of government investigations of the situation, progress has been slow, primarily due to bureaucratic delays and a lack of funding.

Initial earthquake-resistant construction standards were set in 1975, and have been amended a number of times since. The Interior Ministry is responsible for enforcement of the standards, and is currently carrying out a pilot program through local authorities to ensure that new construction is being carried as per those standards. A major problem remains, however, with respect to reinforcement of public and residential buildings constructed before the standards came into force.

Despite cabinet decisions providing for NIS 140 million a year, over a 25-year period, to shore up public buildings, far less than that has actually been budgeted and the process of carrying out the work on the more dangerous structures has not yet begun.

National Master Plan No. 38, which encourages apartment owners to reinforce their buildings in exchange for incentives to contractors, has also not been a success either. The incentive allows contractors, for example, to build penthouse apartments on buildings which they reinforce. The plan has yielded meager results at this point. Only a small number of buildings have been shored up. Furthermore, in practice, Plan No. 38 is attractive in locations such as North Tel Aviv where land is expensive, but not in outlying areas of the country. The scheme has only led to the reinforcement of several dozen buildings.