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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State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss said he was waving "a red flag before the government and the prime minister" in the introduction to the report he released yesterday on the lack of earthquake preparedness in Israel.

Lindenstrauss noted he made specific warnings a decade ago but added that very little has happened since.

According to Lindenstrauss, hospitals have not been reinforced, not even those in geologically sensitive areas such as Eilat's Yoseftal Medical Center and Rebecca Sieff Hospital in Safed. In addition, limited protection had been provided by the reinforcing of emergency rooms built after the Second Lebanon War.

The comptroller found the government guilty of neglect and said very little progress had been made in reinforcing public structures, such as schools, estimating this would cost NIS 100 million a year.

Though the government wants tax breaks and extra building rights to move home owners to invest in reinforcing their homes, according to National Master Plan 38, the comptroller found problems in the concept: requests submitted that failed to meet the plan's demands, difficulties in expanding apartments in densely populated areas and residents refusing to allow reinforcement work to begin.

The problem is exacerbated in the periphery, where land is cheap and there's no demand for new building rights. No solution has been found for this or for reinforcing government-owned public housing - and no new budget has been allocated for the plan. Last month, the Housing Ministry told the State Comptroller's Office it was working out the transfer of NIS 90 million for reinforcing residences in seismically active areas.

Israel has had a building standard so structures could withstand earthquakes since 1980; the government, however, has no way of ensuring the standard is being met.

The Zeiler committee, which was set up to investigate the 2001 collapse of the Versailles wedding hall, looked into the entire matter of structural stability in Israel and recommended special bodies be set up to monitor the implementation of the standard, but nothing has been done. The Interior Ministry said recently it was conducting an experimental monitoring project.

The interministerial steering committee for earthquake preparedness said in response that there had been improvement in preparedness over the last decade, and that last year the government "allocated NIS 140 million a year for the next 25 years to reinforce public structures.

Later this year, work will begin on reinforcing 70 buildings and inspecting the reinforcement of 200 others.

Last year, the Education Ministry began investigating the stability of 58 schools, and the Health Ministry has begun planning the reinforcement of the main building of the Sieff Hospital in Safed; three buildings in Haifa's Rambam Medical Center; and the Bnei Zion Medical Center (Rothschild ) in Haifa, the steering committee noted. It also said the housing and interior ministries were working on preparing further financial stimuli for residents to take advantage of National Master Plan 38.