Explainer

What to do if an earthquake hits: IDF Home Front Command instructions to public

As tremors continue to shake country for third day after devastating quakes in Syria-Turkey, army says head outside or to fortified rooms if possible, otherwise a stairwell

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 IDF Home Front on Wednesday advised the Israeli public to familiarize itself with instructions for what to do if an earthquake hits the country, measures that have taken on new urgency as regional tremors continued to be felt two days after a devastating quake hit Turkey and Syria, killing over 17,000 people.

Two minor temblors rattled Israel on Wednesday evening, amid fears the country could face a major earthquake like the deadly ones in nearby Turkey and Syria on Monday that were also felt in Israel.

Wednesday’s tremors measured at 3.3 and 3.9 on the Richter scale, with the first centered around central Israel and the second in Lebanon but also felt across the border. They followed a 3.5-magnitude tremor on Tuesday night that was centered around 15 kilometers (9 miles) southeast of the settlement city of Ariel in the West Bank.

No injuries have been reported as a result of any of the three earthquakes.

The Home Front Command said that warning sirens were not sounded for any of the quakes in Israel because the tremors posed no danger to residents.

In the event of a more serious earthquake air raid sirens will sound a short burst along with an announcement “Earthquake” that will be repeated several times. In addition, the IDF offers a smartphone app that will send out a warning notification within seconds of a quake being detected by the Geological Survey of Israel.

Rescuers carry out search operations through the rubble of collapsed buildings in Kahramanmaras, on February 7, 2023, a day after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck southeast Turkey. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP)

According to the Home Front instructions, those inside buildings should try to leave for an open area outside. If it is not possible to leave the building within the first few seconds after the quake starts, people are advised to enter the building’s secure rooms, specially fortified rooms that newer buildings have on each level as protection also against rocket attacks. Those who enter such a shelter during an earthquake should leave the door and windows open, the IDF advised.

As an alternative to a shelter, people can also go into the stairwell of the building and use the stairs to make their way outside. If even that is not possible, people should sit in a corner of the room or underneath a heavy piece of furniture while protecting their heads with their hands.

Those who are able to make it to open space should stay away from buildings, trees, electrical cables, and any other object that could collapse.

Anyone driving in a car should stop at the side of the road and wait in the vehicle until the earthquake stops. Drivers are advised to avoid stopping under bridges or on an interchange.

Immediately after an earthquake, people near the shore should move away from the coast to a distance of at least one kilometer, as a precaution against a tsunami. If that is not possible they can enter structurally secure buildings and go up to at least the fourth floor.

The Home Front also recommends that families prepare a kit for all possible emergency situations that should be kept in a place with easy access, or in a family’s secure room.

The kit should include at least 3 liters of water for each member of the family, dry food, a battery-operated flashlight, a means of receiving information such as a battery radio or spare batteries for a cellphone, any medicines needed by family members, and items need to care for babies where relevant such as diapers, food, bottles, etc.

The IDF also advised keeping a backup of important documents and some cash in the emergency kit.

The earthquake warning system put in place last year in cooperation with the Geological Survey of Israel can issue an alert to citizens with sirens, similar to those used in rocket attacks, within seven seconds of a quake that measures more than 4.5 on the Richter scale. It can be downloaded from the Home Front website (Hebrew link)

The effectiveness of the system was captured on live TV Wednesday with the Kan public broadcaster interviewing the head of the Geological Survey of Israel when sirens blared in the institute’s headquarters signaling the start of an earthquake.

Algerian rescue teams take part in the search and rescue operations following an earthquake in Syria’s northern city of Aleppo on February 8, 2023. (Photo by AFP)

In the wake of the Turkey-Syria earthquake, several Israeli government offices have convened emergency meetings to reassess the country’s preparedness for a major quake.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Monday said the premier had directed National Security Council chairman Tzachi Hanegbi to conduct a situational assessment regarding the government’s preparedness for earthquakes. Hanegbi will soon hold a meeting on the matter with representatives from all of the relevant ministries, the PMO said.

Also on Monday, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman urged authorities to fortify the country against a potentially devastating earthquake and pointed to the disaster in Turkey and Syria as indications of the urgency of doing so.

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