Defense Ministry calls emergency meeting as earthquakes continue
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Defense Ministry calls emergency meeting as earthquakes continue

Representatives of police, army, rescue services and local authorities to discuss response plans in case of major disaster

Members of the Knesset Honor Guard, Home Front Command, firefighters, IDF, Israel Police and Magen David Adom Emergency Medical Services participate in an emergency drill simulating an earthquake at the Knesset, Jerusalem, June 13, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Members of the Knesset Honor Guard, Home Front Command, firefighters, IDF, Israel Police and Magen David Adom Emergency Medical Services participate in an emergency drill simulating an earthquake at the Knesset, Jerusalem, June 13, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Defense Ministry has called a major summit of emergency services and local municipalities to review the country’s readiness for dealing with a possible major earthquake wreaking havoc.

Wednesday’s meeting will follow a spate of minor yet worrying quakes that shook areas in the north and center of the country over the past few days.

The discussions will involve representatives from the National Emergency Management Authority, the army’s Home Front Command, police, firefighters, the Magen David Adom ambulance service and municipal authorities, Hadashot television news reported on Monday.

The aim is to review events of the past week and prepare for any future developments.

The last major earthquake to hit the region was in 1927 — a 6.2-magnitude tremor that killed 500 people and injured another 700.

Experts have warned a large earthquake could strike Israel in the near future, and the government is funding projects for the strengthening of public buildings against tremors.

A national plan for strengthening older buildings against earthquakes — known by the Hebrew acronym TAMA — relaxes zoning rules and gives developers rights to add extra floors and apartments to existing buildings to cover the costs of strengthening buildings and adding bomb-proof rooms to apartments.

But Bezalel Treiber, former head of the National Emergency Management Authority, told Army Radio on Monday that that TAMA program only provides limited protection.

“It needs NIS 5 billion in order to make a revolution in the matter. The weaker apartments are exactly in the most dangerous place — on the Great Rift Valley,” he said, referring to the volatile fault line in the Earth’s crust that runs from Syria to Mozambique and includes Israel’s Jordan Valley.

“Tens of thousands of apartments are not reinforced and there is a high danger they will be damaged,” Treiber warned.

The recent rash of minor quakes has raised public concerns that a major quake could be coming, and instructions have been issued to review and refresh procedures, the report said.

Dr. Avi Shapira, a seismologist at Haifa University, told the Ynet news website that series of earthquakes do not historically indicate that a major earthquake is imminent.

“Odds are nothing will happen,” he said. “But we can’t rule out something happening either.”

One Sunday four minor earthquakes were felt in northern Israel, measuring between 3.1 and 3.3 on the Richter scale. A series of quakes measuring 3.4 to 4.33 on the Richter scale were first felt Wednesday and then again on Thursday and Saturday.

A State Comptroller report in 2001 found that no funding had been allocated for strengthening buildings and infrastructure. It was followed by another report in 2004 which said that not much had been done in the intervening years due to spats between ministries over responsibility for the work, Hadashot reported.

An inter-ministerial committee set up in 2004 proposed making preparations for a 7.5 magnitude quake to the country’s north, with catastrophic loss of life and severe damage to infrastructure. It raised the prospect of 16,000 dead and nearly 100,000 wounded in such an event, with 10,000 buildings destroyed.

In 2011 another state comptroller report sounded further warnings about the threat to northern communities and infrastructure from an earthquake, and once again lamented the dearth of precautionary measures taken.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced Thursday that a new multi-year plan to protect Israel from earthquakes will be presented to the cabinet this month.

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