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During future wars, people confined to shelters will be able to ask for a messenger from the local authority or Home Front Command to fill pharmacy prescriptions, says Dr. Dan Laor of the Health Ministry's emergency services.

The availability of medicines is one of issues the Prime Minister's Office has instructed the ministries, Home Front Command, Union of Local Authorities and local authorities to examine. These bodies have been asked to ensure that the civilian population is more prepared for the next war than it was for the last one, which paralyzed the North in the summer of 2006.

In contrast to the last war, people in shelters will receive information of open pharmacies and clinics in the next war.

The PMO has formulated a program intended to preserve the civilian population's "fabric of life for a length of time." Every local authority will be responsible for providing services to do so - namely, shelters and food. Food, for example, could be distributed by the organizations that provide hot meals for children.

The more serious the emergency, the larger the Home Front Command's role. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert instructed that a liaison unit headed by a senior officer operate in every local authority.

Every local authority has agreed on the duties of its emergency unit - whether it would help distribute food or medicine, or evacuate disabled people to shelters.

"In contrast to the situation so far, it is now clear to the Home Front that if the local authority cannot function, it will take over," a source familiar with the program said. "The Home Front's role has expanded considerably."

Reinforcing liaisons

The liaison units in weaker local authorities will be reinforced with senior officers in addition to the unit commander.

At Olmert's instruction, each local authority will hold a periodic drill to examine the preparedness of all the bodies.

Two fundamental problems have apparently not been solved, however, due to bickering over budget and powers - the shelters and urban control centers, from which the local authority heads and their staff are supposed to manage civilian life during war.

"Some authorities will be prepared, some won't," acting ULA director general Sharon Azriel says. "Those who raised money from foreign donors and took care of themselves will be all right."

Blocked funds

Azriel slams the government for holding back some of the NIS 450 million intended to renovate shelters and for planning to cut an additional NIS 100 million from that sum in 2007. The Interior Ministry denies having blocked any funds in 2006.

Azriel says that he conducted a survey indicating that many of Israel's shelters are not ready to accommodate people for long periods of time. Another source says NIS 300,000 is needed to carry out a comprehensive survey on this.

The legal problem of the private shelters - in homes and large apartment buildings - has also not been solved. Some authorities say they cannot compel residents to prepare the shelters for emergencies because they are private property.

Beyond the local authorities' responsibility in times of emergency, the Prime Minister's Office decided that the government would be the one to decide whether to evacuate residents or send them to hotels for short periods of time.

The Defense Ministry is in the process of contracting 23,000 hotel rooms to be used during emergencies. Last year the government had only about 2,500 rooms at its disposal.

The Defense Ministry would maintain the coordination among all the bodies in charge of protecting the Home Front. It would also have the s supreme responsibility for civilians, at least in the next five years, it was decided. This decision was made in part to save the time needed to reorganize and due to the greater logistic and organizational capabilities of the Defense Ministry compared to the police, for example.

The main Defense Ministry arm for serving civilians during times of war, earthquakes, plague or a mass terror attack would be the Home Front. Supreme responsibility would be in the defense minister's hands.