After series of tremors, Israeli authorities call urgent meeting to prepare for big earthquake

A broad range of ministries and authorities will take part in a meeting to better prepare for an expected earthquake.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Due to the series of tremors that occurred over the past week in Israel, an emergency meeting will be held Thursday with all relevant authorities who would have a role to play in case of a major earthquake.

Participants will include representatives of the Ministry of Defense, the National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA), the Home Front Command, emergency medical services, the police, the fire department and heads of all the local authorities.

They will review the country’s readiness and discuss how to use a common language during an emergency to facilitate cooperation among the various groups. Instructions have already been disseminated to all the bodies to refresh their emergency procedures.

Homes have rattled throughout the north from Haifa to Kiryat Shmona as a series of light earthquakes struck the region since July 4, measuring between 2.0 and 4.5 on the Richter scale. Only a few of the roughly 30 tremors were actually felt, according to the Israeli Geophysics Institute, although they have alarmed Israelis.

A National Steering Committee for Earthquake Preparedness (run from the Prime Minister’s Office) was set up in 1999 after a major earthquake hit Turkey, but the state of preparedness in the country is not high enough, according to the State Comptroller, who has written critically about the lack of progress in many relevant areas for over a decade.

Betzalel Treiber, the former head of the NEMA, pointed out two of the main problems in an interview on Army Radio Sunday evening. “Unfortunately, there is a huge gap” he said, between how buildings should be built to survive earthquakes and how they are actually built – and, he pointed out, there are some 80,000 buildings in Israel that are not reinforced to withstand the tremblors.

“It is the duty of the state to make the effort and fix these buildings,” he stated.

The other aspect that is not yet up to par, he said, is how ready the authorities would deal with the aftermath, which is the point of Thursday’s meeting.

He did sound one note of optimism, however.

“A new seismological web [of sensors] is being set up in Israel and … will be completed by the end of the year,” he said.

As it will be connected to the national warning system, he continued, it will enable citizens to get at least a few critical seconds’ warning of an upcoming earthquake – and if the epicenter is far enough away, it could even be dozens of seconds, he added, which will be effective.

On Thursday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman put out a statement saying that a new multi-year home front defense plan to protect Israel from earthquakes will soon be submitted to the cabinet.

“I’m sure we’ll get the green light and budget to get started,” he noted.