National Emergency Management Authority head Yoram Laredo (center). Credit: Israeli Ministry of Defense.
National Emergency Management Authority head Yoram Laredo (center). Credit: Israeli Ministry of Defense.
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The scenario: Half the country is cut off from electricity

Israel's emergency czar wants us to know that he is taking into account a major conflagration in the north—and that we should prepare just in case.

Brig. Gen. (res.) Yoram Laredo is the head of Israel’s National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA). He served as the IDF Home Front Command chief of staff as well as the commander of the Rescue and Training on Duty Brigade and as the head of the command’s central district. In 2015, Laredo led the IDF rescue mission in Nepal after the earthquake there.

Q: Yoram Laredo, you have been out in the field many times in the war. Have the difficult sights and incidents also touched you on a personal level?

“Not so long ago we conducted a tour to [Kibbutz] Kfar Aza. This is where I started my military service, and also where I met my wife. It was frightening. Over and above the destruction and the devastating stories, this kibbutz is part of a formative experience in my life. The combination of all these things together tore my heart apart. This emotional impact sharpened my desire to be even better and more professional in the field that I am responsible for today.”

Q: As part of your position, and as someone who, among other responsibilities, is entrusted with assessments of possible scenarios for national emergency events on the home front, were you surprised on Oct. 7?

“I think that everyone was surprised. It didn’t matter that I have already experienced difficult and complex events; I work in security, military and emergency [affairs]—nothing compares to that.”

Q: In 2021, you said that the civil space is ready to deal with an emergency. On Oct. 7, many felt that this was far from the truth.

“NEMA was established from lessons we learned during the [2006] Second Lebanon War, to produce a national methodology for emergency preparedness, in addition to training and drilling of relevant officials.

“In the case of “Swords of Iron” [the current war against Hamas], we ensured that the tools for managing the civil campaign were activated, and we formulated a picture of how the entire country would continue to function while anticipating disruptions. We set up forums to prioritize the entry of goods and refined products [to Israel], a joint workforce with the Ministry of Economy to fill the shortage of personnel, a regional response by the IDF to the gap in security guards in infrastructural facilities, and conducted work to raise the possible implications of cyberattacks.

“In answer to your question, the overall recovery and response were reasonable. One can criticize and complain, but the event was unprecedented and so was the response—to organize the education system, to manage tens of thousands of evacuees, to preserve medical care, and to deal with welfare care. I felt that we created an entire infrastructure and tools that resulted in control and coordination.

“Ultimately, in all modesty, the system we established at NEMA for monitoring the situation and understanding the gaps in the functional continuity worked as expected. The national production and supply chain was not dramatically challenged.”

Q: A flare-up in the north would be completely different. In the last few days, have we encountered a rather alarming document from the Ministry of Justice, which deals with preparation for complete darkness.

“A war in the north is a different story and is expected to significantly challenge the national production and supply chain. We understand that the issue of energy and regular supply of electricity will be the focus, so we will be holding a war game in the near future on this issue, under the auspices of the minister of defense.”

Q: Just to make things clear, the assessed scenario considers a situation where about half of Israel’s population will be cut off from electricity for a day, and maybe even longer.

“True. We need to prepare here for an extensive blackout, a power cut, in addition to the development of a full-scope military event in the north. Almost everything is based on energy and electricity. Together with the Ministry of Communications, we activated AM receivers that will allow continuous radio transmissions even in the absence of electricity, even in a bomb shelter or a residential secure space.

“I advise everyone to buy, among other things, a transistor radio, batteries and bottled water. We are also working on an energy solution for several cellular endpoints that will function during prolonged power outages. Medical ventilators and breathing support machines are another example of needed devices, and the Ministry of Health has already approved ways to help patients on ventilators during a prolonged power outage. Time is precious and plans must be ready.”

Q: You emphasized the importance of the supply chain. How do you ensure the supply of food without the supply of energy and electricity?

“We have, for example, analyzed potential threats with the Ministry of Economy. The ministry has designated supermarkets from Hadera to the north with energy backup, which will continue to provide service during prolonged power outages. This is called the ‘Super Iron’ program. The ministry will practice a war game with the large retail chains to rehearse the procedure. The Ministry of Economy also stocked up on 20,000 food rations, to distribute to citizens in [bomb] shelters with issues of accessibility, via the local authorities.”

Q: In the case of applying the assessed scenario in the north, what are the most important things that you have to undertake?

“Beyond the demand for energy management, it is important to make sure that we have a correlated picture of the situation with the government ministries. That is why we purchased satellite phones for use in emergencies. It is also important that the decision-making process is not compromised. Another issue is people’s ability to self-evacuate. Those who are in their own homes, in a [rocket-]protected area, have lower chances of being injured. We have statistics that back this up. If there are people who nevertheless decide to evacuate independently, the state will have to provide an appropriate response.”

Q: All the plans we discussed are important, but in the end, your main weakness is that you cannot force the implementation of your emergency plans. This is a problem.

“This is the crux of the difficulties, and we are pushing for legislation, the Home Command Law, because without it any government ministry can say, ‘I’m not doing this.’ To me this is ridiculous.

“I am delighted that in recent events there has been a voluntary commitment by government ministries. Beyond that, NEMA is the liaison between the government ministries, a joint entity that connects them to the situation, sets priorities and is also connected to the [IDF] Intelligence Corps and the development of the situation. But in other emergency situations, it is not certain that the commitment will be similar.”

Q: So, you believe that the state would be better prepared for an emergency if procedures had been anchored in legislation?

“Yes. If we had the authority to guide and instruct the implementation of the plan we constructed, the procedure would work more smoothly. Legislation would make everything more harmonious.”

Q: What is important to emphasize in such legislation?

“Among other issues, creating a mechanism that will ensure proper preparation by the state institutions and economy, so that they function properly in an emergency; determining roles and authorities of the state institutions, local authorities, rescue agencies and other entities; having a national master plan for the home front, with statutory status, formulated by NEMA and approved by the government; the obligation to report annually on the state of the [IDF] Home Command’s preparedness for an emergency; determining an earmarked emergency budget for each government ministry and local authority; declaring of a ‘state of economic emergency.’

“We must not have a situation where a certain ministry assumes the powers of other ministers. In an emergency, NEMA will provide the appropriate response. NEMA is the one that will guide organizations and ministries, both formally and legally, during an emergency. If situations are anchored in legislation, Israel’s preparedness for emergencies will soar.”

Q: Besides legislation, you still haven’t talked about increasing the budget. Your budgets dropped by approximately 60% within a decade.

“Maybe this will surprise you: I don’t feel that we have an unusual budgetary problem, but the issue of legislation is much more crucial.”

Q: In conclusion, you have been in this position for more than three years. Did you imagine that during your term the COVID-19 pandemic would seem like a distant, almost relatively minor, event?

“Absolutely not. I did not think that in retrospect, relatively speaking, the COVID-19 virus would be regarded as a seasonal flu. I did not expect this, and everything must be done so that such incidents do not happen here again.”

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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