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Disaster preparedness lessons from Israel

/ 04:20 AM November 16, 2019

I recently traveled to Israel to spend a week learning about disaster preparedness and how Israelis deal with emergencies. Through the generosity of the Russell Berrie Foundation and organized by the Community Resilience Partners, the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF) assembled a 10-person team from the government and private sectors to learn first-hand how Israel deals with emergency preparedness and response.

The team members included Office of Civil Defense (OCD) Undersecretary Ric Jalad; Public Welfare Undersecretary Felicisimo Budiongan; Interior Undersecretary Nestor Quinsay; Health director Dr. Gloria Balboa; OCD director Susan Juangco; Col. Jose Bonifacio Calub, group commander of the 505th Search and Rescue Wing, Philippine Air Force; Dr. Bernardo Cueto, head of Makati Medical Center’s Emergency Preparedness Unit; Dr. Ted Esguerra, head of the Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Response Unit, Energy Development Corp.; PDRF executive director Veronica Gabaldon; and myself.

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For seven days, we traveled to and visited different organizations involved in everything from desert search and rescue to Israel’s Home Front Command, Israel’s top hospital, National Emergency Management Authority, private organizations mandated to respond to medical emergencies and accidents, counselors and community organizers, and technology startups.

We came away after one week inspired and full of insights, and asking ourselves what lessons we can apply here in the Philippines and within our own organizations.

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Our first observation is how mission-driven and doctrine-driven the different organizations were. They all had a clear and focused sense of their mission, their purpose. The Megillot Volunteer Search and Rescue Unit, for instance, specializes in desert search and rescue operations over a large part of the Judean Desert, including the Dead Sea. This 90-person, all-volunteer group is composed of individuals who hold day jobs but drop everything immediately when called to rescue people in the desert. Their system, organization and processes are streamlined to achieve fantastic results. Every year, they rescue about 500 people in the desert.

Our second observation is how well-coordinated the organizations were. When it comes to deploying for an emergency, just as they did when they sent assistance to the Philippines after Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: “Haiyan”) in 2013, the Israelis could call on many organizations. For instance, as the Home Front Command prepared its response team, medical experts from the Sheba Medical Center Tel Hashomer (Israel’s top hospital) jumped into action to package a full-blown pop-up field hospital capable of conducting surgical operations and delivering babies. Israel ended up deploying about 150 people and all their equipment on a chartered jet to the Philippines. Today, they are International Search and Rescue Advisory Group-certified, and can have a team wheels-up and airborne to a disaster-hit area in a matter of hours.

Our third observation is how much time and resources they invested in training. The Sheba Medical Center Tel Hashomer has created a training center based on the concept of simulation training. Former Air Force pilot Amitai Ziv (and now a doctor) founded this center based on the practice of flight simulation training for pilots. He adapted simulation training for doctors so they could practice on “patients” (actually mannequins and actors playing patients’ families) before they could work on real people. It’s now become mandatory training for all medical professionals in Israel.

Our fourth observation is how they used technology smartly to get the job done. A combination of sensors, mobile phone apps, maps and GPS, and emergency operations centers, was used to cut response times at accident scenes. United Hatzalah uses all this technology to dispatch motorcycle-riding paramedics and first responders to accident scenes in 90 seconds to three minutes. At Magen David Adom (their Red Cross), patients’ vital signs could be monitored at the emergency operations center while ambulances are en route to hospitals.

And finally, we observed that voluntarism was strong in the preparedness and response system. Everywhere we went, a combination of professional and volunteer staffing was present. This sense of purpose and community combined to give Israel’s disaster preparedness ecosystem a high-touch feel to go with their high-tech strengths.

Guillermo M. Luz is chief resilience officer of PDRF (www.pdrf.org).

Business Matters is a project of the Makati Business Club ([email protected]).

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