Launch of the tsunami signage in Tel Aviv* (photo: National Steering Committee for Earthquake Preparedness, Israel)
By Brigitte Leoni
LISBON, 24 November, 2017 - Do not be surprised to see tsunami warning signs if you walk along the beaches of Tel Aviv, they were set up earlier this month to coincide with the World Tsunami Awareness Day on November 5 by the city authorities to alert tourists and residents to the potential risk of a tsunami along the Mediterranean coastline.
The initiative implemented by the National Steering Committee for Earthquake Preparedness together with the National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA) was strongly supported by Tel Aviv's Mayor Mr. Ron Huldai.
“We had tsunamis in the past mostly triggered by earthquakes happening in Greece and Crete and the risk is still strong today. We do not know when the next one will happen and where, but we prefer to be prepared rather than being taken by surprise,” explained Mr. Amir Yahav, Director of the National Steering Committee for Earthquake Preparedness in Israel.
“Dozens of tsunami warning signs indicating escape routes in English, Hebrew, and Arabic have now been placed on beaches throughout Tel Aviv-Jaffa and the aim now is to install them all along Israel’s coasts, “ he said.
Israel counts more than 271 km of coastline and most of it is exposed to earthquake risk. Israel is located in the Mediterranean Sea where two tectonic plates, the Eurasian and the African ones can converge and trigger a major earthquake and a tsunami.
Still, tsunamis on Israeli shores are rare. The last one was recorded in 1956 and was the result of a large earthquake in Greek waters. Prior to that, the only tsunamis recorded were near Acre in the 19th century and Caesarea in the 12th century.
To complement the signs, the Israel Defense Forces has a new siren that will alert people to the threat should a tsunami happen.
"We now have two types of alerts: one for missiles and another one for tsunamis and this last one also includes for the first time a vocal message saying that a tsunami is in progress,” said Mr. Yahav who added that the initiative has been well received by the residents of Tel Aviv and the media.
To mark the World Tsunami Awareness Day, NEMA and the National Steering Committee for Earthquake Preparedness worked with hotels to better prepare them in case of earthquakes and tsunamis and will continue cooperating with them and other representatives of critical infrastructure to reinforce the current prevention procedures.
“We are preparing the country to respond to a 5-meter tsunami wave and I do not think we are excessive as if we had a tsunami today, losses will be enormous as thousands of people live by the coast and many critical assets are located along the shores. We certainly do not want to take the risk,” said Mr. Yahav who was speaking at an IOC UNESCO conference in Lisbon, Portugal discussing tsunami warning services for the North East Atlantic, Mediterranean and connecting seas region (NEAM) which currently relies on early warning service providers in France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Turkey.
Israel is a subscriber to the NEAM system, which provides regular and essential data on the seismic and sea level activities in the region that will allow their national authorities to trigger or not a warning alert.
At the moment if an earthquake happens in Crete or Greece, Israel will have more than 20 minutes to evacuate its population.
“The Mediterranean Sea has a history of tsunamis, with 25 percent of all those ever recorded occurring close to Israel. Tsunamis occur off Israel’s coast every 100 years on average and we do get tsunami warnings after earthquakes roughly every three months,” said Mr. Yahav.
Photo details: *From left to right Betzalel Traiber, director of the National Emergency Management Authority, Ron Huldai, Mayor of Tel Aviv, Amir Yahav, Director, Israel's National Steering Committee for Earthquake Preparedness and Chicko Edri, Chief of Police for the Tel Aviv region.