Israel prepares to face tsunamis

Children evacuate Gordon Elementary School in Tel Aviv tsunami drill
 
By Brigitte Leoni

Tel Aviv 12 March 2019 –More than 130 000 children have taken part in the first national tsunami simulation ever done with schools in Israel.

Jointly organized by Israel's National Steering Committee for Earthquake Preparedness and the Ministry of Education, the tsunami simulation involved schools located on the 271 kms  of Israel coastlines considered as the areas most exposed to tsunami risk if an earthquake were to happen in the Meditarrean Sea.

The tsunami simulation was part of a wider national earthquake drill that was also organized today involving more than 2.5 million students throughout the country.

Tsunamis may be rare in Israel but its government is taking the risk seriously and investing in prevention.

“We are sitting in a seismic region and by the sea, two reasons to be alerted,” explained Mr. Amir Yahav, Director of the National Steering Committee for Earthquake Preparedness in Israel who organized and coordinated the national drills today with the police and all the services and institutions involved in emergency situations. “We do not know when the next tsunami will happen or where, but we prefer to be prepared rather than taken by surprise as happened in the past.”

Israel is located in the Mediterranean Sea where two tectonic plates, the Eurasian and the African, can converge and trigger a major earthquake and tsunami. The earthquake may not happen in Israel but in Greece, Turkey, Cyprus or Egypt; close enough to trigger tsunami waves on Israel’s shores. The last tsunami was recorded in 1956 and was the result of a large earthquake in Greek waters. Prior to that, tsunamis were also recorded near Acre in the 19th century and Caesarea in the 12th century.

“When people ask me why we are investing so much in these exercises, I just say to them that it is better to be 100 per cent prepared so citizens will know what to do if a real one happens,” said Ron Hulddai, Mayor of Tel Aviv, who attended the drill organized today in his city.

In addition to the exercise, a "distance learning in emergency" exercise was also conducted with schools during the all week providing students with online educational contents and interactive activities with local authorities.

"The tsunami and earthquake drill led by the Ministry of Education is part of a multi-year plan to increase preparedness in times of emergency. The education system plays a crucial role in the national defense system of Israel, and this exercise is part of our efforts to train educational teams and children aged up to 18 years old to cope with any type of emergency situation," said the Education Ministry Director-General Shmuel Abuav.

Drills are only one prevention measure among the many extensive activities led by Israel's National Steering Committee for Earthquake Preparedness to better prepare and equip the country to deal with tsunamis. Dozens of tsunami warning signs indicating escape routes in English, Hebrew, and Arabic have now being placed on beaches throughout Tel Aviv-Jaffa and all coastline cities and new tools to assess sea level measurements have been installed in different parts of the coastline with the support of the European Commission.

The Mediterranean Sea is one of the most vulnerable areas in the world from tsunamis. According to experts, about 25 per cent of all tsunami cases recorded worldwide occurred in the Mediterranean. Warnings of tsunamis approaching Israel are received from international warning centers scattered throughout the Mediterranean basin. Israel is a subscriber to the North Eastern Atlantic, the Mediterranean and Connected Seas system that provides regular and essential data on the seismic and sea level activities in the region and allows Israel authorities as well to trigger or not a warning alert.

Warnings about tsunamis occur once every three months on average in Israel, the last time a warning was issued was in October 2018 following an earthquake in Greece.

UNISDR and other international observers from Turkey, Greece, Italy and the European Commission Joint research Centre took part today to the tsunami drill organized at the Gordon Elementary School in Tel Aviv where 500 children from 8 different classrooms had to evacuate to the Atsmaut park identified as one of the eighteen assembly places in Tel Aviv. 

“We may not yet be fully prepared to face tsunamis, concluded Mr. Amir Yahav at the end of today’s exercise, but every time we conduct a drill, we are nearer and we can expect to save more lives in a real situation.”

The Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction 2018, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia 3-6 July 2018 The Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction 2018, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia 3-6 July 2018.
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