Comptroller’s Report |

Israel Woefully Unprepared for Natural Disasters, Comptroller Says

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Israelis look on a flooded road at the Negev desert near Kibbutz Zeelim January 9, 2013Credit: Reuters

Israel is still woefully unprepared for coping with natural disasters, and the problems begin with the lack of the necessary legislation to guarantee the effective protection of the population. That was the message of a report issued Wednesday by State Comptroller Joseph Shapira.

Shapira called the lack of appropriate laws and regulations “a grave deficiency” that must be remedied urgently. He noted that there are no unified, binding guidelines for local authorities to deal with emergency situations such as forest fires and extreme weather events, and no government agency that has the authority to enforce such regulations.

There is also no clear division of authority between the Public Security Ministry and the Defense Ministry, stipulating the areas for which each is responsible in the event of an emergency, the comptroller said.

He added that the Home Front Defense Ministry, which was established in 2011 and disbanded last year, did little to promote the more effective protection of civilians and was merely a constant source of friction between the public security and defense ministries.

Firefighters dwarfed by the Carmel forest fire in 2010. Credit: Itzik Ban-Malki

The lack of an enforcement agency is a major reason why the latest instructions for firefighting and fire safety have yet to be implemented in communities located near wooded areas, even though these guidelines were issued in 2012, based on the lessons learned from the 2010 Carmel Forest fire, the comptroller wrote.

Many communities have failed to draft plans to protect residents from forest fires, to pave access roads for rescue vehicles or to install water systems for dousing forest fires, as required by the Israel Fire and Rescue Services.

Shapira also noted that because of disputes over funding, the regulations for the fire and rescue service on protecting communities from forest fires had yet to be approved, nor had the agency’s rules on the duties of local governments in this area been finalized.

Moreover, there is no agency with the authority to make sure that local governments comply with emergency preparedness regulations. There are no standards for measuring preparedness, nor are there serious standards for maintaining emergency equipment.

“As a result, the preparedness of each local authority for such situations depends on its desire to follow the guidelines issued and the resources it chooses to allocate for it. Some of the local authorities are not properly prepared or equipped to deal with any emergency situations, let alone fires and extreme weather damage,” the report states.

The comptroller’s auditors examined 14 local authorities; seven cities (Ashkelon, Holon, Haifa, Tirat Carmel, Jerusalem, Kiryat Motzkin and Safed), four smaller towns (Beit Jann, Daliat al-Carmel, Isfiya and Tivon), and three regional councils (Upper Galilee, Hof Hacarmel and Mateh Yehuda). The auditors examined each community’s capability to cope with forest fires, snowstorms and flooding.

A Palestinian pushes a stuck car on a road covered with snow during a snowstorm at Qalandia refugee camp near the West Bank city of Ramallah January 7, 2015.Credit: Reuters

The comptroller did not specifically address many aspects of local performance, preferring instead to focus on the larger picture. He did cite favorably the way Jerusalem, Safed, Beit Jann and the Mateh Yehuda Regional Council had improved their snow readiness following the massive problems caused by the blizzard of December 2013.

With regard to the snowstorm, he also pointed to specific lacunae, like the fact that the Police Ordinance does not define the Israel Electric Corporation as a “rescue body” and therefore it cannot issue it any instructions, which emerged as problematic in 2013.

The report also included a table of statistics compiled by the National Emergency Authority regarding the preparedness of local authorities for emergencies based on audits conducted between 2011 and 2013. The table shows that the preparedness of 97 of the 257 local authorities in Israel (37 percent) was poor to middling, which the comptroller declared to be “very grave.”

The emergency authority, which is now part of the Defense Ministry, said, “Since returning to the Defense Ministry in June 2014, the NEA and the Home Front Command have completed an outline for delegating authority among the national bodies dealing with the home front. These responsibilities will be established in a ‘home front law’ that will give the NEA the required authority vis-a-vis government ministries, local authorities and the various agencies working with the home front during routines times and emergencies.”

The authority added that the NEA had formulated a new approach to the home front that would be submitted this week to the defense minister for his approval, and that its principles had already been drilled by government ministries and emergency agencies in the Turning Point 15 home-front exercise in early June. This new approach will be the basis for a new multiyear plan (2016-2020) for home-front preparedness, the authority said.

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