Secure Rooms Do Not Provide Protection From Direct Hit

The Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command has instructed residents of the north to take refuge in secure areas - either shelters or reinforced rooms - if there is a missile attack. Such areas do not exist everywhere, however, and in any case they do not provide complete protection against such a strike.

According to estimates by the Association of Contractors & Builders, only 25 percent of buildings in the country have a reinforced room (mamad, in Hebrew); in most locales there are underground shelters in residential buildings or communal structures. Very old neighborhoods, built before the 1950s, do not have secure facilities at all.

"The reinforced rooms will not stand up to a direct hit, but they have the ability to protect those inside from shrapnel," explained Nathan Hilu, head of the technical division of the Contractors' Association. "There have been lots of experiments carried out to test the strength of the reinforced rooms. Very large bombs, of 200-300 kilos, were exploded at a distance of 5 meters from the reinforced room. The results showed that the rooms were shrapnel-proof - that they don't break up and don't splinter."

According to Hilu, the results of the experiments also showed that the reinforced rooms could protect those inside from a missile strike that takes place very nearby.

Hilu explained the function of the secure areas: "A person standing in a open area, 50 meters from where a missile lands, would probably be killed by the explosion. If he is inside a regular building, at the same distance, he will most likely be injured, but not killed. If he is inside a secure area, there is a good chance that he will be unscathed."

The secure structures that exist were originally designed to afford protection during a conventional missile attack. The first shelters were built in the 1950s under apartment buildings and in the center of residential neighborhoods. At the beginning of the 1980s when the possibility arose of a gas attack against Israel, preparations were made for making the shelters gas-proof.

In August 1991, after the Gulf War, the IDF published regulations which oblige every housing unit to have a secure area. According to these guidelines, the door of the secure area must be reinforced and the windows blast-proof; all openings must be gas- and shock-proof. The window is mounted on the inside of the opening, and has an external steel shield. The external walls of the reinforced room must be made from 25-cm.-thick reinforced concrete, while the internal walls are 20 cm. thick.

The current law allows the construction of reinforced rooms, or a secure area on each floor. Most people prefer the individual room, because it can be used for other purposes; thus homeowners receive an extra room and do not have to pay extra for it. The Home Front Command also prefers the reinforced rooms, since they are in constant use, which means they are looked after and ready for an emergency.

Despite this, Dr. Yoav Sarna, head of the Engineers' Union, claims that the protection that the reinforced rooms provide probably does not justify their cost. "It's a political question," he said. "The cost of building one reinforced room is $5,000. With an average of 30,000 apartments being constructed each year, this is a cost of some $150 million. The question is, couldn't some better protection be provided for that amount?"