Ein Gedi Botanic Garden

Ein Gedi Botanic Garden
Seek the serenity of a Judean Desert sky in Autumn at the Ein Gedi Botanic Garden

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Israel Getting Ready to Shake, Rattle and Roll?

(Arad) - It’s only a matter of time until a major earthquake hits the Jewish State, according to the director of Israel’s national earthquake readiness committee.

Earthquakes happen all the time in Israel – a mild one struck the north this past Saturday night,  registering 3.6 on the Richter scale, according to the Seismological Institute. The temblor occurred just north of Lake Kinneret, near the Arik Bridge at about 8:45 p.m. It lasted about 10 seconds.

Another mild quake hit the north about 10 days ago, registering 3.4 on the Richter scale. Its epicenter was located in the Mediterranean Sea off the southern coast of Lebanon. That quake was preceded a day earlier by a stronger, level-6 temblor that struck Turkey, north of Lebanon.

Dozens of people were killed.

‘We Are Now in the Area of Statistical Error’
Dr. Avi Shapira, head of the National Infrastructures Ministry committee, said that every location in Israel has experienced an earthquake at least once in the past 2,000 years – and that where there has been at least one earthquake, there is sure to be another.

But now the country is running into overtime, he pointed out in a statement he released to the media on Sunday.

“Israel experiences a large earthquake on an average of every 80 years; since the last one occurred in 1927, we are now in the area of statistical error. Of course, it could be a few decades before a quake occurs, but it could also happen at any given moment. We also know that the more time passes, the greater the intensity of the earthquake will be,” he said.

‘Greed and Stupidity’
Shapira slammed the short-sightedness of local authorities who are unwilling to grant building zones to contractors in exchange for reinforcing existing structures against future earthquakes. He also had strong words for citizens who supported their local governments' unwillingness to grand the additional building zones to the contractors in a special deal involving a regulation called TMA38, which was approved in 2005.

TMA38, the National Planning Guidelines for Seismic Strengthening, determines the steps that contractors are expected to take upon themselves for the reinforcement of existing buildings in return for building zones.

However, Shapira explained, very few local communities had actually taken advantage of the deal. “TMA38 is only worth something in places where land is expensive – but from a survey that we carried out, we found that even in expensive areas in central Israel, of 100,000 buildings that can be reinforced according to TMA38, only a few hundred have actually been dealt with," he said.

“This is because of the greed and stupidity of citizens on the one hand, and the local authorities’ refusal to grant additional building zones for a variety of reasons – some justified and some less,” he added.

Local Authorities Face Conflicting Priorities
It is the local authority that becomes the immediate responder in the aftermath of an earthquake, explained Ephraim Karni, head of Israel’s National Emergency Authority. “It is irrelevant whether a local authority is a strong or weak one, a functioning or non-functioning one, prepared or not prepared – it is the local authority that will have to provide an immediate response,” he said.

And yet, that having been said, most local authorities are ill prepared, due in part to the national government’s unwillingness to empower them with the autonomy to make the necessary preparations. Sharon Azriel, acting director-general of the Union of Local Authorities said that financial cutbacks and budget limits have pushed aside the issue of emergency preparedness in most local authorities.

“A mayor who has funds and has to choose between building a new promenade or park, and establishing an underground command center that no citizen can see or is aware of – finds himself in a serious dilemma,” Azriel said.

Regardless, Israel is living on borrowed time, according to most experts in the field, and will soon have to face the issue of how to prepare its infrastructure, its buildings and its population to behave in the event of an earthquake -- with or without the financial wherewithal to do so.

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