The IDF's New App: Sing Your Way Into the Bomb Shelter

Getting Israelis to pay attention on the one hand, and not to freak out on the other, is a delicate balance. Home Front Command believes it found it with a new high-tech computer generated jingle that tells you how many minutes you have to avoid death or injury.

At first, it looked like a parody showing up on my Facebook feed, a funny and absurd joke that one of my friends decided to share. But then I saw it was a “sponsored link” - one that had been paid for - a social media commercial – and that it was utterly sincere. The post in question featured a photo of four uniformed perky young people perched in goofy poses on a stack of hay, holding up signs that read, “Friends, let’s write a life-saving jingle!”

They didn't seem real at first because the message seemed utterly incongruous. Normally, one doesn’t associate grinning young people, haystacks, and the word “jingle” with life-or-death situations.

Perplexed, I couldn’t resist the temptation to click on it and find out what it was talking about. So I took the plunge and headed to the relevant page on Facebook - the Home Front Command Page (because, after all, what’s an army unit these days without a social media presence?)

Over the past few weeks, that page has been devoted to informing the Israeli public of the Home Front Command exercise happening over the course of the last week of May, most importantly the two sirens that are scheduled to go off twice on Monday. The population will be instructed to head into shelters when the sirens go off, as if it were actual incoming missiles. The stated purpose of the drill is to “test the reaction to heavy missile attacks from multiple origins, namely Syria, Lebanon and Gaza. The drill involves preparing for the arrival of unconventional warheads, for instance missiles bearing noxious chemicals.”

Scary stuff, and even though these drills were pre-scheduled and take place in one form or another every year, currently they are a little too close to reality considering what’s been happening on Israel’s northern border recently. It's all bound to make folks jumpy, if not downright panicked.

It's a delicate balance – getting Israelis, on one hand, to pay attention, and on the other, not to freak out.

Hence the smiling young people, the haystacks, and the jingle. They are all clearly designed to calm us down and cheer us up with the ultimate distraction - a cool new app - while simultaneously reminding us of what we are supposed to do in the drill.

The website the Home Front Command Facebook message links to provides a neat way to remember how many minutes you have to get to the shelter and avoid death or injury with its high-tech computer-generated “life-saving jingle.” It reads: “The Homefront Command singing troupe is lending a hand and helping you remember the amount of time you need and the shelter you should go to with a personal jingle that you won’t be able to get out of your head and that you can use at the moment of truth!”

To create the jingle, first, the user clicks on their favorite musical style: Hip hop, Middle Eastern, or old-fashioned Israeli folk-dancing style. Then they have to enter their place of residence, and a series of questions: whether they have a shelter in their home, whether they live in a house or an apartment building, and if a building, how tall it is and whether they live on a high floor, close to the ground or floor in between.

As soon the website absorbs the information, it spits out a picture of the perky soldiers posed on the haystacks holding your instructions on their cute little signs.

But the really groovy part is that the user can also hear the instructions in jingle form, with the right style of music. For example, one may get a Middle Eastern singer in a nasal voice “Go to the stairwell, go to the stairwell, if you want to fare well, within two minutes -- go to the stairwell!”

Or, alternatively to the strains of accordion music, “Winter, spring, summer or fall, you have a minute to get to your shelter, that’s all!”

Or to a rocking backbeat, “A minute and a half is what you’ve got, man - to get in an internal room as fast as you can!” (These lame English versions are not precise translations of the lyrics, but trust me, the Hebrew rhymes are fairly equivalent in their lameness.)

Depending how you look at it, the exercise is genius or completely ridiculous.

The genius argument: I’m sure, like many other people, this gimmick succeeded brilliantly by causing me to click on the appropriate Facebook and web page, and become aware of the exercise on Monday which I had pretty much ignored up until that point. AIthough I find it hard to believe that after Operation Pillar of Defense there may still be Israelis left who don’t know where they are supposed to go in case a missile attack and exactly how long it’s supposed to take them to get there (and does it really matter whether we are supposed to officially get there in two, three or five minutes? Because, let’s face it, we’re all going to head there as fast as we can.”

The completely ridiculous argument is self-evident. A JINGLE? One understands that the fearless leaders of the IDF want the public to stay calm, remember our instructions, yet refrain from panicking about these things, but do they really think they can distract us from the threat of chemical warfare by using catchy tunes? What's next, tap dancing into the shelters?

There are plenty of scornful reactions in the comments on the Facebook post promoting the jingle website demonstrating that many Israelis don’t find the jingles at all delightful. Some examples:

“This is the way to prepare us for what’s ahead? Are they serious?”

“I wonder how much this campaign to insert a jingle in my head inflated the defense budget.”

“You think we’ll be able to hear the jingle in our head over the ‘boom’ sounds?

“Great, instead of making sure everyone has gas masks or building more shelters and renovating dilapidated ones, they’re writing jingles.”

Not all of the reactions are negative – some of the comments praise the start-up nation style ingenuity at work.

Whether one finds idea of managing the home front through song brilliant or horrendous, one thing’s for sure: there is indeed an app for everything these days. Even coping with the frightening threat of unconventional war.