Grim picture of North‘s earthquake prep painted at emergency Knesset meeting

Some 3,000 families living in the northern city of Tiberias are lacking the proper infrastructure to protect them in the face of a serious earthquake, the city’s mayor, Yossi Ben-David, told participants of an hosted by the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s Home-Front Readiness Subcommittee on Thursday.

The meeting was called after dozens of tremors were felt around northern Israel over the past two weeks. The city of Tiberias announced on Sunday it had opened an emergency hotline for residents.

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“The national concept regarding earthquakes determines that the local authority is the foundation brick and we have the responsibility to respond in the first moments,” he said. “We do everything to be prepared, but we need the tools.”

Over half of the building in the city, he said, were built before 1984 when standards began to be enforced for earthquake durability, and are therefore in danger of collapsing during a quake.

“There is cumulative damage caused by a series of tremors like this one, and it is preferable to invest NIS 1 billion now in strengthening buildings in the city and strengthening the population – for instance by improving medical services – rather than in repairs after the incident,” Ben-David said.

“There are 3,000 families that still have no solutions – and I’m not even talk about hotels and tourists – and I do not want to scare them away out of stress, but I also have to bring them solutions. Today the government solutions speak of buildings of three to six floors, which are indeed the most common, but there are many one-story buildings, such as kindergartens, which nobody is dealing with,” he added.

Israel is situated along the Syrian-African fault line, which runs along the border between Israel and Jordan, part of the Great Rift Valley encompassing the area from northern Syria to Mozambique. Tiberias is one of the Israeli cities that are most at risk, as is Kiryat Shmona.

Rabbi Nissim Malka, mayor of Kiryat Shmona, said that last Saturday there were three tremors and he witnessed confusion among the residents. “They didn’t know whether to go to the shelter – as they are used to, stay at home or be outside,” he said, stressing the importance of disseminating public information on the matter. This point was backed by Ben-David who noted that his residents know how to respond to missiles but not to earthquakes.

Committee chairman MK Amir Peretz (Zionist Union) said: “In this field there is a clear advantage that any investment in emergency preparedness will, in fact, help in responding to earthquakes. An earthquake is a decree of fate, while security incidents can be prevented in one way or another. If we can not prevent it, we can only prepare and be prepared, and first and foremost we must try to minimize the immediate damage as soon as possible, and then examine the ways to deal with damages do occur.

“We prefer to prepare for the most pessimistic scenarios in order to be prepared for everything and we have written many reports – and made many government decisions about it – but not everything is coming to fruition. But certainly, the state can not blamed them for such an event. We have heard announcements about the good intentions of the finance and defense ministries, and I hope they will be backed by a budget and real work plans.”

Director-general of Magen David Adom, Israel’s national emergency, medical and disaster services, said that unfortunately his organization is also not prepared, also due to a lack of backing.

“In 2012, the director-general of the Health Ministry asked us to operate in an earthquake, after it had been the responsibility of the health maintenance organizations. Since then, everything we have done was solely from our own resources because we did not get any funds from the state. Is there any body in Israel or in the world that is instructed to deal with such challenges without getting one shekel? Unfortunately, Magen David Adom is not ready today for a scenario of earthquakes.”

A 2016 report by Israel’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s Home-Front Readiness Subcommittee found that if Israel were to be struck by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake, an estimated 7,000 people would be killed, another 8,600 injured and 377,000 expected to be left homeless. In addition, the country could face damages of up to NIS 200 billion.

Peretz concluded the meeting by criticizing the disproportionately little attention allocated to the threat as an “ongoing failure.”

“We  expect the upcoming cabinet meeting to clarify the matter and make a decision on timetables of up to two or three years, not a decade, with budgets to back it up,” he said.