IDF Eyes Underground Spaces for Use as Bomb Shelters in Wartime

Underground public and commercial spaces such as garages and storage rooms could be commandeered by the state and used to house vital public services in case of war, the Home Front Command said yesterday. These structures could also be used as alternative bomb shelters, the army said.

Over the last few days, the Home Front Command has begun preparations to locate underground structures throughout the country, and is working on emergency plans for their use.

The state will be required to utilize all underground spaces to the maximum in an effort to function better during wartime than municipalities in the north did during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, said Home Front Command officials. They said these public spaces can be used to house civilians whose homes have been damaged by missiles, especially if the entire country is under attack.

The approach was pioneered by the Haifa municipality, which used large underground parking garages as bomb shelters during the Second Lebanon War. In January, during the Gaza fighting, Be'er Sheva and Ashkelon used public spaces to operate day-care centers for the children of municipal workers, policemen and doctors, to make it easier for their parents to continue working. A reinforced building belonging to a community center was used for day care in Ashdod.

The Home Front Command has set up liaison units to communicate with local authorities in wartime and staffed them with high-ranking soldiers in the reserves, and sources in the command said they were pleased with the work of the liaison units during Operation Cast Lead. They said the units were set up in response to shortcomings during the 2006 Lebanon war.

Although underground spaces are now in demand, military officials noted that many civilians will not need them.

"Many Israeli citizens can protect themselves in reinforced rooms in their apartments," one of the sources said, referring to the rooms with extra-thick, reinforced concrete walls, hermetic doors and double-glazed windows that must be part of every home built since 1992. "And there are also local initiatives to promote construction of such rooms in older houses, but this is a slow process that would be difficult to complete."