Less Than Half of Israelis Take Heed of Emergency Drill

Yesterday's nationwide emergency drill may have caused tension in Lebanon, but in Israel the primary response to Turning Point 4 appears to have been apathy.

More than half of the population failed to seek shelter when the air-raid siren went off at 11 A.M., according to the Home Front Command's initial estimates.

The defense establishment, however, did not appear overly concerned, saying, "The drill was primarily intended for rescue services and local authorities."

In some cases, residents didn't make their way to bomb shelters because they were unable to hear the siren or because the shelter nearest them was locked. Some 350 people told the Home Front Command or the National Emergency Management Authority that they could not hear the alarm in their area when sirens across the country wailed.

Some three percent of the country's 2,830 sirens did not function properly yesterday due to technical malfunctions. Lt. Col. Uri Peretz, who is in charge of communication for the Home Front Command, said these issues are being taken care of.

Over 1,000 new sirens have been added during the past year. The Home Front Command said about 200 more are still needed, but added that this will not address the problem everywhere.

"Even if we install more sirens, we won't be able to cover the entire country," said Peretz. "For that reason, we're also announcing warnings on regional radio stations and other media outlets. As of next year, we'll also be able to transmit warnings and instructions to the public through cell phones."

The National Emergency Management Authority said the drill was a success, despite the fact that less than 50 percent of residents sought shelter.

"Ultimately, the main goal is to drill the local authorities and emergency services and to create public awareness of the issue - and we achieved that," said an official at the emergency authority, which is part of the Defense Ministry. "We didn't expect that everyone who had just sat down at a cafe or gone into a store would drop everything and run to a shelter, but at least they know that this [procedure] exists."

During a drill at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, who is responsible for home front preparation, said that the primary goal of the drill is to improve the way security and search and rescue forces cooperate with local authorities.

"Of course cooperation on the part of civilians holds great importance, but we didn't expect every citizen to go down to the shelters during this drill," he said. "From our perspective, a civilian who made sure to prepare the shelter for an emergency with all the necessary equipment, and who knows how to go down to the shelter with his family - that's a success."

In the Knesset, meanwhile, even the legislators had to be reminded to head for the bomb shelters when the siren sounded yesterday. While many of them went with amused smiles on their faces, the Knesset security guards took the drill seriously and herded everyone in the building into a shelter.