A Home Front Command drill in 2004
A Home Front Command drill in 2004, in which emergency services practice rescuing people trapped under collapsed buildings. Photo by Eyal Warshavsky
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Sirens went off on Wednesday throughout the country, at 11 a.m. as part of a national emergency drill that began Sunday and is to last through Thursday.

The authorities asked people to enter protected spaces when they heard the siren. In southern Israel, the target of repeated rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, two sirens went off by mistake, instead of one as in the rest of the country. A second siren is due to go off at 7 p.m.

The exercise, which has been dubbed Turning Point 5, involves the Home Front Command, the National Emergency Authority, national and local government and emergency services.

For the first three days this week, various government bodies and emergency services practiced their readiness. On Wednesday, the exercise will go into the public sphere, with dozens of drills practicing conventional missile attacks as well as chemical attacks.

The drills are designed to test the readiness of schools, government offices and other work places and private homes.

The head of the population department in the Home Front Command, Col. Efi Mishov, said on Tuesday that 47 percent of the population took part in last year's drill and entered protected spaces when they heard the sirens.

"We expect greater participation this year, but not significantly so. These things accumulate over the years. Response in Israel is good relative to other places in the world; this is a matter of education and we are working on it year-round."

One drill, to test readiness for a chemical warhead attack on Rishon Letzion, will involve Assaf Harofeh Hospital, which will practice taking in hundreds of casualties. Other chemical weapons response drills will be held in Upper Nazareth, the Haifa port, Haifa, and the Ramat Hovav industrial zone in the Negev.

The Home Front Command will also practice evacuating people trapped in collapsed buildings in various places in the country.

Emergency services will practice, together with the Electric Corporation, a scenario in which a cyber attack shuts down the Orot Rabin power station near Hadera, cutting off one-third of Israel's power.

The general scenario for the drill is hundreds of missiles from Syria, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and Iran landing in population centers across Israel every day.

Yesterday the drill focused on cooperation between emergency services and local government, including practicing for a water-supply shutdown to major cities necessitating bringing water in tankers.

Another scenario practices a chemical attack if most of the population has not been issued gas masks.

To date, only half the population has masks, and at the current distribution rate, only about 60 percent of Israelis will have masks by 2012.

There are no masks yet in stock for 40 percent of the population; the Defense Ministry and the Finance Ministry have not yet reached agreement on funding the production of the rest of the masks, at an estimated cost of NIS 1.4 billion.

The Home Front Command practiced issuing instructions to the public to enter sealed rooms; launching an airlift to bring masks from abroad; deciding the criteria for distributing remaining masks; and presenting an official spokesperson to explain the situation to the public.