Magen David Adom |

Hope for the Best and Prepare for the Worst

Magen David Adom is able to invest vast resources into ensuring rapid and efficient responses to every type of emergency – from missile attacks and mass-casualty accidents to natural disasters and, yes, pandemics – thanks to its main funding arm: American Friends of Magen David Adom. If only this high level of preparedness could remain theoretical

Rebecca Kopans
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Magen David Adom has taken a lead role in testing Israelis for Covid since the start of the pandemic
Magen David Adom has taken a lead role in testing Israelis for Covid since the start of the pandemic
Rebecca Kopans
Promoted Content

Magen David Adom (MDA) has always played an important role throughout Israel’s extremely eventful history. Its iconic ambulances and highly professional staff are inevitably the first on the scene whenever and wherever there are potential casualties, and Israelis know they can count on MDA’s 30,000 EMTs and paramedics to take the best possible care of anyone who requires urgent medical attention. 

Determined to maintain and improve the high level of service it provides on a daily basis, Magen David Adom constantly upgrades and finetunes its preparedness in anticipation of every possible scenario. Unfortunately, during the past year there have been ample opportunities for the organization to test its readiness – courtesy of Covid-19, Operation Guardian of the Walls, the Mount Meron tragedy, a major wildfire near Jerusalem, and a very long list of other accidents and violent incidents. 

Guy CaspiCredit: AFMDA

Ready for a wide range of emergencies

“We look at many types of scenarios that are a real threat and we ask ourselves, ‘What can we do to prepare?’” explains Guy Caspi, MDA’s chief multi-casualty incident instructor and director of hazmat exercises and training, adding that MDA tries to be as well prepared as possible, focusing on flexibility and providing fast solutions. 

“We are ready for a very wide range of emergencies, and we prepare for them together with the Police Department, Fire Department, IDF’s Home Front Command, and others,” Caspi continues, adding that MDA works closely with other first responders to ensure an efficient response, including 16 of Israel’s hatzalah organizations, whom they train, equip and dispatch. They frequently hold combined training exercises. 

All MDA employees and volunteers undergo regular training so they will know exactly how to proceed during various types of emergencies. “Despite the current pandemic, we are continuing to conduct training exercises. In the next few months, for example, we will be holding large-scale drills simulating a plane crash at Ben-Gurion Airport, a train accident in a tunnel, and an attack on Jerusalem involving non-conventional weapons, among others,” notes Caspi.  
During emergencies, MDA must be ready to increase its staff on short notice. Thanks to a special app developed by MDA, its professional staff and volunteers can be mobilized very quickly. “We can call everyone to a multi-casualty event with one click. In Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, we can bring up to 50 ambulances to the scene in less than 20 minutes,” Caspi notes, adding that the organization can preemptively increase its level of preparedness, such as when there is an expected threat. “In such cases, we increase the number of ambulances and staff on call and allow teams to take ambulances home.” 

Magen David Adom faced a special challenge last May during Operation Guardian of the Walls, when thousands of rockets targeted almost the entire country and at the same time sectarian riots and violent incidents erupted in many communities. “Our thorough logistical planning proved itself. All the preparations and training made us very well prepared,” says Caspi. But every incident is also a learning experience. The organization is now in the process of fortifying all their command centers so their work won’t be disrupted by incoming missiles. 

“There’s a reason MDA is the best mass-casualty response organization in the world,” insists Caspi. “It’s the same reason we have one of the best militaries in the world, and the same reason we are the Start-Up Nation: because we had to be.”

Dr. Shafir BotnerCredit: AFMDA

Innovative response to Covid-19 

The Covid-19 pandemic has presented exceptional challenges for MDA. The organization found itself on the front lines of the crisis, tasked with testing, treating, and vaccinating the population. “When Covid first began, we didn’t know how dangerous or infectious it was. We had to learn very quickly how to protect ourselves and how to conduct swab tests,” recalls Dr. Shafir Botner, director of MDA's Paramedic Training School and acting director for MDA's Covid field operations. 

MDA looked for a way to train its entire staff very quickly. “In the beginning, nobody had heard of Zoom yet,” says Dr. Botner, “but we built our own ‘Zoom.’ We made a training movie which everybody could watch through the MDA app.” And when the testing was scaled up from 20,000 to 100,000 swabs a day, MDA developed software in-house that made it possible to process and report the results of so many tests within a short period of time. 

MDA also faced the fact that people were scared to go to the hospital and often chose not to call for an ambulance even though they were experiencing a medical emergency. Indeed, people were so frightened of contracting Covid-19 in the hospital that some died of a heart attack at home. MDA swiftly adapted by fast-tracking a telemedicine initiative that had been in early stages of development. 

“We realized that people wanted to stay home as much as possible and that in many cases it was better for everybody if they did not go to the hospital. MDA paramedics started to make house calls and connect patients to devices that give doctors all the information they need. Doctors don’t need to actually see every patient,” explains Dr. Botner. By training paramedics in the use of telemedicine tools and having doctors on duty to treat patients remotely, MDA was able to substantially reduce the pressure on emergency rooms and enable both Covid and other patients to receive excellent care at home. Telemedicine has proven to be so effective that MDA plans to continue offering this service post-Covid. 

Another initiative MDA developed and launched during the pandemic is the collection of convalescent plasma from recovered Covid patients, used to help boost antibodies in current patients. It takes up to one hour to donate a unit of plasma and so far over 7,000 units have been collected.

“During Covid we realized that MDA can be very versatile and that we can learn very quickly. From the start, our dedicated staff agreed immediately to take part in the effort, including many volunteers,” Dr. Botner points out. Moreover, whenever they are short-staffed, people volunteer to work even more. “During the recent Sukkot holiday, nobody took a vacation. We worked around the clock, distributing antigen tests for schoolchildren and conducting serological testing alongside our regular tasks,” he reveals.

Prof. Eilat Shinar, M.D. Credit: AFMDA

New Blood Center to be inaugurated

Magen David Adom has another important job: it is the sole entity in Israel responsible for collecting, processing and supplying blood products for both civilian and military use. The organization collects approximately 1,000 units of blood per day and up to three times that much during emergencies. “When we need more blood, we reach out to the public and they come,” says Prof. Eilat Shinar, M.D., director of MDA’s Blood Services Division.

Prior to the pandemic, most blood drives were conducted at workplaces and at army bases. When people started working from home, MDA had to change its routine in order to ensure the national blood supply would not be harmed. “Our bloodmobiles went to residential neighborhoods instead of offices, and people could give blood in the open air. As a result, there was no shortage of blood during Covid,” says Prof. Shinar.

As part of its efforts to maximize preparedness, MDA is completing the construction of the new Marcus National Blood Services Center in Ramla. “Our current blood center in Tel Hashomer dates from the 1980s and today it is obsolete and too small. Also, since it is not fortified, our national blood supply is not safe. The new facility will be topnotch, fully automated, and completely protected against conventional, biological, and chemical attacks. We will be able to implement the newest technologies and process up to 500,000 units of blood a day, which is the amount Israel will require in 20 years according to population growth predictions,” Shinar explains.

American donations make it all possible

Magen David Adom's operational activities are not funded by the Israeli government. The new Marcus Blood Center – and nearly all of MDA’s lifesaving activities – are funded largely by donations. 

When the pandemic struck, American Friends of Magen David Adom (AFMDA), MDA’s U.S.-based fundraising affiliate, immediately mobilized, launching a Coronavirus Emergency Campaign. Donations made it possible for MDA to quickly expand its call center, enabling them to move from some 6,000 daily calls to a staggering 80,000 calls a day.

AFMDA also made it possible to fast-track the telemedicine program, providing monitors and communications equipment. And AFMDA is providing nearly all the funds for the new $130 million Marcus National Blood Services Center, named for the lead donors, Home Depot Co-Founder Bernie Marcus and his wife, Billi.
Prof. Shinar is hopeful that MDA will fully migrate Israel’s blood services to the new building this summer, following the May inauguration of the Marcus Center with “those who have made it possible – MDA’s American friends and donors.”

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