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Digging In For The Long Haul

Avi Friedman

Scientists say a major earthquake could strike Israel in the next forty years, and security experts warn that a major Middle East war would hit Israel harder than ever before. But local health officials say no country on earth is better prepared to deal with a mass casualty disaster quickly and effectively and that Israel’s hospitals will continue dispensing uninterrupted medical services, from state-of-the-art underground locations that necessity has forced Israel to perfect.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Walking around the lower floors of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, there is little to distinguish the hospital from other health facilities around the world. Smiling visitors with flowers head for the maternity ward, concerned middle-aged siblings gather around elderly parents, and hospital staff wheel patients around the facility.

The first floor at Shaare Zedek looks like that of a normal hospital, until one realizes that there are no windows. Aside from an atrium located off the emergency room, the only view to the outside is via the front door to the lower level, which is itself set back several hundred feet from the main parking lot. That’s because the bottom three floors of Shaare Zedek are actually a reinforced bomb shelter, built into the side of the mountain separating the hospital grounds from the adjacent Bayit Vegan neighborhood.

On a permanent basis, the reinforced section of the hospital houses the emergency room, operating theaters, outpatient clinics, and an extensive maze of storerooms with equipment to deal with every imaginable large-scale tragedy: stretchers, gas masks, preventative suits to guard against hazardous materials, and antidotes to counter every biological or chemical poison agent known to man.

The set-up might be unheard of in foreign hospitals, but is not unique in Israel. At hospitals all around the country, emergency supplies are neatly organized and kept in top working order, and all maintain peak-level readiness to respond quickly and effectively when disaster strikes. Western Galilee Hospital in Naharia and Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv both maintain bomb-proof, underground facilities to be used in the event of a large-scale emergency. Here at Shaare Zedek, direct contact with the IDF Homefront Command is maintained through a special green telephone in the situation room. In the event of a nonconventional attack, doctors are expected to know what sort of attack has taken place and to have the relevant treatments at hand by the time the first patients arrive. Then, as storage rooms are emptied, they can be quickly turned into patient wards.


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