Tourist Tip #88 / What to Do When the Sirens Go Off

The past days have seen a storm of rockets from Gaza raining down on Israel, some reaching the vicinity of Tel Aviv. When the sirens go off, be sure you know where to go and what to do to stay safe.

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Yesterday, the rocket sirens went off in Tel Aviv for the first time since the Gulf War in 1991. Perhaps because the city's residents are so unpracticed in responding, many simple froze. At least that was the scene at the cafe where I was enjoying a beer with my cousin. For the first half of the siren, she insisted it was an ambulance. Slowly, those around us took note, standing as if ready to run but unsure where to go. The soldier next to me called home: "Mom, what do we do?"

Here's what to do, according to the Home Front Command:

How much time do you have?: The amount of time you have to get to a shelter from the moment the sirens go off depends on how far you are from where the rocket is launched. The Israeli military has provided the map at right to indicate the window of time throughout the country for rockets coming from Gaza: Sderot – 15 seconds, Ashkelon – 30 seconds, Ashdod – 45 seconds, Be'er Sheva – one minute, and the cities of Rishon Letzion, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem – one and a half minutes.

If you are outside, get inside: Identify the nearest public shelter. Note that enclosed public spaces, such as malls and underground parking garages (including the New Central Bus Station, Dizengoff Center Mall, Azrieli Mall, Gan HaIr and Ramat Aviv Mall)serve as shelters too. If you happen to be strolling down the street or at a cafe, duck into the nearest enclosed space, like the stairwell of an apartment building, ideally as far away from doors and windows as possible.

If you are in an open space and cannot get inside a building, lay down flat on your stomach and protect your head with your arms.

If you are inside, go down: Whatever the size of your building, get off the top two floors and stay away from the ground floor as well.  In a three-story building, for example, the staircase of the middle floor is the most protected area. Do not use the elevator and do not go into a courtyard. If you are in your apartment, move to an interior space as far away as possible from doors and windows. If your building has an internal shelter that you can access via an internal stairway, go there immediately regardless of the window of time.

If you are driving, stop: Pull to the side of the road and enter the nearest building. If that's not possible, given your window of time, exit the vehicle, drop to the ground and protect your head with your arms. If it is not possible to exit the vehicle, stop by the roadside and wait 10 minutes.

When the sirens stop: Wait 10 minutes. If you don't receive any further instructions, you can return to "normal" life. If you ran away from a cafe without paying your bill to seek shelter, as some around me did,be sure you go back and pay. Leave a big tip.

Ashkelon residents have 30 seconds to reach the nearest shelter.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Consult this map to determine how long you have once the siren starts.Credit: IDF