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Emergency Preparedness in Israel: Miami Federation's Direct Encounter

It has often been said that the true test of strong leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it expands into an emergency. This is the direction JFNA Israel and our partner organizations have been taking in planning for future Israel emergencies, and what Jacob Solomon, President and CEO of the Greater Miami Federation, witnessed on his recent solidarity visit to the Negev in early September.

Solomon gained an overview of the JFNA Israel emergency preparedness protocol and offered important feedback on the constructive efforts that JFNA's partner organizations have put in place. 

JFNA Israel has been working closely with the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the Israel Trauma Coalition (ITC) to prepare a protocol employable during emergency situations in Israel. JFNA takes seriously the importance of coordination of efforts for an efficient, immediate response to any need, whether terror attack or earthquake.

The concept behind developing the emergency preparedness protocol is based on taking advantage of quiet times for significant and comprehensive planning efforts. When working in the volatile environment of the Middle East, JFNA Israel has learnt to prepare strategically, maximizing the periods of relative calm advantageously to prepare in advance for any and all emergency scenarios.

Deliberately crafted to be organic and dynamic, the procedures are designed to be improved at every stage, with the increased acquisition of knowledge at each event. Rebecca Caspi, Director General, JFNA Israel emphasizes that the endeavor is a joint one, enabling us to 'work together, more efficiently and more collaboratively, to ensure ongoing success, coordination, and reflection in our response to crisis situations'.  

When the tragic Carmel Forest fire broke out on December 2, 2010, JFNA set into play elements of its emergency preparedness guidelines, assessing the needs of Carmel residents and following through with aid from federations. Since then, the protocol has been refined, as one key goal is to ensure ongoing learning from every new incident towards enhancing future responses. Solomon's visit itself was part of a continued JFNA effort to gather information on how to assist and lend support most effectively to those impacted communities in need.

During the trip, the major site visits represented different stages in the emergency preparedness framework. The five stage process of response begins at identification of needs and ends with post emergency follow up, with the aim of encompassing as many of the predictable requirements as possible. Visiting families who had been directly affected by the escalating rocket fire from Gaza Hamas units a matter of miles away, was part of Stage 4:  the immediate aftermath of the emergency. The JDC Center for Independent Living in Beersheva, represented the resources in place for Stage 3 (Active Emergency) and the stages before and after. The meeting with the ITC showed the need for acute, precise and direct response to all stages of an emergency.

Ofer Baram, JAFI Southern Coordinator of the Victims of Terror (VOT) Fund, accompanied Solomon on visits to families in the area who had been affected by rocket attacks on August 20 when over 70 rockets, including Kassams, Grads and mortars, were shot from Gaza to Beersheva, causing 10 casualties and one fatality.

In Beersheva, Solomon met with a woman whose house was hit by a Grad rocket. She expressed pain at having to leave her home due to the threat of terror; 'I want to be able to stay here without being afraid. After one grad landed at 6am on Friday, the calls started from each of my children, begging me to come and stay with them. Eventually I caved in and late afternoon, I left. I told my children that nothing will happen in Beersheva now that I'd left'. Describing the invasion of privacy and feelings of vulnerability that the attack had left her with, even finding shrapnel in her son's cassette cases, she concluded; 'The rest is history. I think I have tremendous luck: me, my children, my grandchildren'.

Lior George, 25, was hit by a grad while on a brief walk with his friend and next door neighbor, Netanel when the siren sounded.  During Solomon’s visit to their home town, Lior was undergoing intensive physical therapy and doctors were fighting to save Netanel's remaining leg.

Lior's parents described events; 'When the alarm sounded, we went into the shelter and stayed there for 13 minutes - you have to stay for at least 10 minutes after the sirens have been heard.  The moment we left the shelter we saw a burning mass of fire outside. Netanel's brother banged on the door to tell us that our son had been injured. When we ran outside, we saw that the force of the explosion had propelled the two friends meters apart.

Chana who had endured rocket damage to her house said she had seen 'miracles and miracles and miracles'. Speaking with her, Solomon offered encouraging words of solidarity and support; 'You can see what a beautiful home it was and what a beautiful home it will be'.

Solomon saw another aspect of emergency protocol in practice in the Center for Independent Living in Beersheva. Co-established by JDC, it is managed by and

Fu'ad, a Bedouin volunteer
Fu'ad, a volunteer
caters to those with disabilities. A hub of information and support for dealing with emergency situations, it is managed by Muslim, Christian and Jewish Israeli citizens. Dalia, the center's manager, is a source of support for many. Says Tikvah, a frequent participant in the art classes on offer, 'Dalia just listens to us, helping us with any problems we might have'.  Tikvah elaborates; 'The most important thing is that we're not alone; we can contact Dalia the whole time. In emergency situations, Dalia provides us with the security we need'.

To complete the picture of emergency preparedness, Solomon met with ITC. The

Game helps children recognize different stresses involved
Game helps children recognize the different stresses which make up trauma
Coalition aims to take the initiative rather than reacting to trauma. Part of the challenge which ITC faces, is in never having respite from the ongoing trauma: the patients they see are never offered a break from the traumatic experience. Oranit, ITC senior psychologist, speaks of the perpetual stress their patients suffer; 'they have had to live with the trauma and its ongoing cause for a decade. Our aim is to create an environment whereby the children who are undergoing these traumatic rocket barrages and lack of security within the home, won't be traumatized for life'.

Emergency preparedness provides organizations with the confidence that they are acting in the most efficient, timely manner; and this confidence seeps down to those on the ground. Furthermore, the coordination between organizations has a positive knock-on effect on each involved. For example, taking measures to ensure people's physical safety has a direct and invaluable psychological result.

The principles outlined by the JFNA Israel emergency protocol are applicable to any disaster befalling the people of Israel, at any stage.  Solomon understood this from his site visits, and seeing how the emergency preparedness protocol reacts to the full spectrum of needs; physical, emotional, mental and material.

Not unexpectedly, everyone involved in the day shared a deep and heartfelt desire that the entire protocol remain solely in the realm of the theoretical.  Solomon articulates; 'It is clear the JFNA protocol will play a vital role in stabilizing Israel's communities during times of crisis, the positive effects of which only the people on the receiving end can demonstrate adequately. Our fervent hope remains that we will not have cause to put it into practice, however refined it is'.  

 

Jacob Solomon listens to Israel Trauma Coalition work
Jacob Solomon hears of Israel Trauma Coalition work
3 km from Gaza, a fortified kibbutz shelter
A fortified shelter on Kibbutz Kfar Aza