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Israel Prepares to face tsunamis: Largest National Tsunami Exercise ever in the Mediterranean Region

17 March 2019

2 March 2019, Tel Aviv (Israel). More than 130,000 children took part in the first ever national tsunami simulation exercise with schools in Israel. Jointly organized by Israel's National Steering Committee for Earthquake Preparedness and the Ministry of Education, the tsunami simulation exercise involved schools located on the 271 kilometers of Israel coastlines considered as the areas most exposed to tsunami risk if an earthquake were to happen in the Mediterranean Sea. The tsunami simulation exercise  was part of a wider national earthquake drill that was also organized.

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 on the alert,” 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".

Israel is located in the Mediterranean Sea where two tectonic plates, the Eurasian and the African, converge. The plate convergence has the potential to trigger a major earthquake and tsunami. The earthquake may not happen in Israel but near Greece, Turkey, Cyprus or Egypt; close enough to trigger tsunami waves to reach 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 prepared so citizens will know what to do if a real one happens”, said Ron Hulddai, Mayor of Tel Aviv, who observed the drill organized today in his city.

"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. New sea level gauges have been installed along the Israel coastline with the support of the Joint Research Center of the European Commission.

Although tsunamis are rare in the Mediterranean compared to the Pacific, several tsunamis have been recorded in the Mediterranean region recently (e.g. Lithakia 26 October2018), Aegean Sea (21 July2017), in Alboran Sea (25 January 2016) and in the lonian Sea (17 November 2015). Although moderate in size, these events highlighted the tsunami threat in the NEAM region in light of increasing coastal tourism and blue economy activities. Clearly, this suggests the need to further improve national Tsunami Warning and Mitigation Systems in the region, in particular the last mile component, which includes education, awareness, and better response from Civil Protection Agencies in the region.

Israel is a member country of the Intergovernmental Coordination Group of the North Eastern Atlantic, the Mediterranean and Connected Seas Tsunami Warning System (NEAMTWS), which has subscribed to the NEAMTWS Tsunami Service Providers (TSPs) to receive tsunami information. There are currently four existing TSPs (France, Italy, Greece, and Turkey) in NEAM region coordinated by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO. The last time a tsunami information was issued by TSPs regarding an anticipated tsunami 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 observed the tsunami drill organized at the Gordon Elementary School in Tel Aviv, where 500 children from 8 different classrooms were evacuated 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.”

A regional tsunami exercise (NEAMWave 20) involving all NEAMTWS Member States is expected to be organized and conducted in 2020.

 

Further information

ICG/NEAMTWS Technical Secretary: Denis Chang Seng d.chang-seng@unesco.org

 

This article has been slightly adapted from the source article published by UNISDR:

https://www.unisdr.org/archive/64189