Israelis Told To Prepare Themselves For Earthquakes
By Julie Stahl Jerusalem Bureau Chief
November 08, 2002

Jerusalem ( - Under a threat of possible missile attack from Iraq, and two years into a war against Palestinian terrorism, Israelis are being advised to prepare themselves for the possibility of earthquakes in the near future.

The region sits on a major fault line and has been hit by earthquakes, including severe ones, throughout the centuries. Experts say it is only a matter of time before another big one hits here.

In an attempt to reach as many Israelis as possible, a special brochure prepared by an inter-ministerial government committee on earthquake readiness is being sent to citizens in their electric bills starting this week.

Chairman of the Earthquake Readiness Committee, Ya'acov Heichal, insisted that the timing of the distribution of the brochure has nothing to do with Iraq or any other crisis in the country.

The brochure has been in the planning for a year and was finished in July said Heichal.

In July, the government asked the committee to postpone the distribution of the brochure due to the security situation and many terrorist attacks. In September, the government asked for another delay due to the Jewish holidays.

When it appeared that there would be an endless number of reasons for delay, Heichal said, he decided the time was now to send it out.

What if there is an earthquake in the next few weeks or months? Heichal asked. People will say, "Why didn't you tell us what to do?" he said.

The brochure contains preparation instructions that are good for any disaster, Heichal said, like the having a backpack ready at all times with items such as copies of all important documents and bank papers, a week's supply of necessary medications for the chronically ill, water and a transistor radio.

It also tells people how to behave in case of an earthquake, such as where to run or hide.

According to Rami Hofstetter, head of the seismological division of the Geo-Physical Institute, the committee comprised of health, army, security, construction and other professionals was formed to prepare Israel for the possibility of an earthquake as a result of two strong events in August and November1999 in Turkey.

On August 17, 1999, an earthquake centered near Izmit in northwestern Turkey left more than 17,000 people dead and some 44,000 injured. Shoddy building construction was blamed for many of those deaths.

Three months later on November 12, another quake in northwestern Turkey, this time in Ducze and surrounding towns, killed more than 700.

"The whole idea is to make everybody aware that from time to time we suffer from very strong earthquakes," Hofstetter said.

The committee is also working to implement other recommendations such as improving building codes. An estimated 300,000 to 400,000 Israeli apartments are not likely to be able to withstand a powerful earthquake.

Small tremors occur frequently in this part of the world. The last one felt here was in 1995, Hofstetter said.

"We do expect a strong event in the near future [within the next 50 years or more]," Hofstetter said. " We cannot stop them [so] we need to get ready.""