State Comptroller: Local Authorities Unprepared for War

Report points to 'grim picture of continuing omissions and oversights that need correction.'

Five years after the end of the Second Lebanon War and after significant investments in emergency preparedness, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss released his report on Tuesday, which revealed significant gaps in coordination between state and local authorities.

Officials from the State Comptroller's office examined seven local authorities in order to study their preparedness for a possible war, and the degree of coordination between them and the Home Front Command, the National Emergency Management Authority, and the Interior Ministry's Security Department.

Despite the vast amount of resources spent in preparing the home front over the last five years, which included the creation of the emergency authority, as well as conducting many drills, including the annual Turning Point exercise, the report states that the government has yet to define a division of power between the various state and local authorities dealing with the matter. The report goes so far as to state that some of the bodies involved even attempt to "shirk their responsibilities on the matter."

In its summary, the report points to a "grim picture of continuing omissions and oversights that need correction," But the comptroller also said the situation today has improved significantly since the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War in 2005. Along with the creation of NEMA, liaison officers with vast knowledge of the needs of the individual local authorities were appointed by the Home Front Command and they are working with the authorities on an ongoing basis. Furthermore, each authority has taken part in yearly preparation drills.

It seems that the biggest issue today is that the Home Front Command and NEMA do not have the necessary authority to compel local authorities unprepared for an emergency to take the required actions. Furthermore, the Interior Ministry does not take responsibility for emergency situations (as evidenced by its conduct during last year's Carmel fire ), although it is officially responsible for such emergency situations.

No plan for evacuating civilians

The Interior Ministry's security and emergency division has not prepared a detailed yearly plan which sets priorities for budgeting emergency command centers in local authorities; has not prepared orderly plans for evacuating civilians from areas under threat during wartime and keeping track of and supervising the evacuees; and in 2010 the ministry did not conduct even a single inspection to examine the preparedness of the local authorities under its responsibility.

Over the past year, the Home Front Command has provided the various local authorities with scenarios that are supposed to reflect the expected threat level for each one, the number of expected casualties in case of war and local points of weakness. The comptroller's report calls the scenarios "general" and almost "standardized" and says they do not relate properly to the specific problems of each local authority.

Also, the report states that the three state bodies involved, the Home Front Command, NEMA and the Interior Ministry did prepare proper procedures jointly to use volunteers in the home front in times of emergency.

The authorities do not have proper information on the number of shelters, their location and readiness to host citizens in case missiles fall on the home front.

In a large number of cases, the Home Front Command and NEMA know of the lack of equipment in the emergency reserves, but there is no body responsible for making sure the equipment is provided. NEMA has also yet to formulate clear measures to judge the preparedness of the authorities, and the information involved is not always supplied in an orderly fashion to the Interior Ministry and the local authorities.

The comptroller has harsh criticism for the Interior Ministry for not taking responsibility for the matter; despite that the ministry is now the only body that has the authority to order local authorities to prepare. The report recommends new legislation to make matters clearer and give further authority to the professional bodies such as NEMA and the Home Front Command to give mandatory instructions to the local authorities on all matters relating to emergency preparedness.

The IDF Spokesman's Office said that the IDF's fundamental assumption is that prior preparation, both of the IDF and the home front, for emergency situations broadcasts deterrence and strengthens national security. The Home Front Command is also advancing an amendment to the civil defense law to regulate the relations between the IDF and local authorities in a proper fashion, and in particular relating to the responsibility for shelters.

The Home Front Defense Ministry said that after years of neglect, after the Second Lebanon War Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai assumed the responsibility for rehabilitating and rebuilding the home front, and preparing it for emergencies. After four years of intensive work and planning, there has been a revolution in preparedness, said the ministry. "But alongside that, we have to understand that as of now, the appropriate monetary resources have not been invested for the necessary preparations and readiness in order to ensure the security of Israeli citizens."

The Union of Local Authorities spokeswoman said the comptroller's report exposed what the ULA has been saying for years: None of the government bodies responsible for emergency response is doing its job properly, and as a result the local authorities and citizens are being left exposed. The local authorities prepare and practice for emergency situations, but there are various and numerous government bodies responsible for the preparations of the local authorities for emergencies, and every one of them is trying to avoid taking responsibility, said the ULA.

The Interior Ministry said that the sum of regulations set in law and cabinet decisions on the preparedness of the local authorities for emergency situations was based on an assumption that the professional knowledge and resources to set the overall requirements for dealing with emergency situations is i the hands of the defense authorities. The Interior Ministry said therefore, these defense authorities are responsible for enforcing the regulations and ensuring the local authorities fulfill their requirements.