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MDA says ready if power goes out, with generators, satellites, new protocols

As Hezbollah continues to threaten Israeli cities and military bases, MDA is prepping for contingencies, states Felix Lotan, head of disaster preparedness.

An exercise undertaken by Magen David Adom, drilling what to do in the event of a major power outage, whether from terror or natural disaster. Photo by Cassouto Photography via Magen David Adom.
An exercise undertaken by Magen David Adom, drilling what to do in the event of a major power outage, whether from terror or natural disaster. Photo by Cassouto Photography via Magen David Adom.

Magen David Adom has developed what are among the most sophisticated dispatch and emergency response systems in the world, applications that use artificial intelligence to reduce response times for medical emergencies.

But in the wake of the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas and with the threat of escalating conflict with Hezbollah, the organization is contemplating what responding to emergencies would look like if there were extensive power outages caused by either a military-style attack or a major natural disaster.

With that in mind, MDA has begun planning alternative energy sources, creating new emergency protocols and implementing a series of drills to practice for what would be a catastrophic event for any modern society reliant on technology.

MDA has already purchased generators for its stations throughout the country so that computers at the dispatch centers can continue to track the needs on the ground, says Felix Lotan, senior paramedic and head of Magen David Adom’s disaster preparedness.

MDA is also working with Israel’s Ministry of Health to catalogue all patients who rely on ventilator support. In the event of a power outage, they will be transported to shelters with sufficient generator capacity to power ventilators.

However, Lotan notes, generators are of limited value if the national cellular system stops functioning. In such a case, it will be impossible for dispatchers to communicate with medics or for teams to contact MDA blood services with transfusion requests.

A fully equipped satellite communication system may help solve that problem, according to Ido Rosenblat, MDA’s chief operations officer. He says “if the radio tower has satellite capability, we can operate our communications the same way we usually do. We can use the same infrastructure and equipment, transferring it all to a satellite network.”

MDA is working to increase its satellite capability while also planning other communication workarounds, adds MDA chief of staff Uri Shacham, including having EMTs driving medicycles to relay information.

“If it becomes impossible to communicate by radio, a medic driving a Medicycle can speed over to the hospital and let them know how many patients are on the way,” says Shacham. “That would be the equivalent of somebody riding a horse a hundred years ago to deliver a message.”

Magen David Adom medicycles. Credit: Courtesy.

‘Preparing our teams to react to events’

According to Lotan, a 23-year veteran with MDA who has been involved in international relief missions in Haiti, Nepal and Texas, among other locations, when it comes to major emergencies, having a robust plan of action is just as important as incorporating alternative tech solutions.

For example, MDA teams are now being trained in what Lotan calls “autonomous and automatic response.” In the event of a major emergency that compromises communication, each medic will know in advance where to report.

“We know from experience that when Israelis need emergency treatment and can’t call us, they go to MDA stations, local medical clinics and police stations. We will make sure that as soon as an event occurs, our medics travel to these locations,” says Lotan.

He added that medicycle and ambulance teams will also be trained to drive through neighborhoods looking for those in need of treatment. If travel to hospitals is deemed impossible, local MDA stations can be turned into field clinics.

“The most important thing that we’re doing is preparing our teams to react to events with casualties in multiple arenas at the same time,” says Lotan.

To make it easier to treat patients in war conditions, stores of supplies are currently being purchased. These include bulletproof ambulances; personal equipment such as headlights, helmets, plank vests, and bulletproof vests; and at least 40 large trailers with vital necessities such as gasoline, water, a generator, medical kits,and stretchers, all of which can be towed to various locations.

Many supplies are being sent to border communities and other vulnerable areas as part of MDA’s Magen Project, said Lotan, calling the project one of the most important parts of MDA’s preparation initiatives.

The project trains community-based teams to act as first responders within communities that are especially at risk for attacks. As he looks ahead to the possible scenarios that may face the nearly 35,000 EMTs, paramedics, first-aid providers and other pre-hospital emergency medicine personnel, Lotan says MDA has learned from Oct. 7.

“We understand that there may be areas where the military will be busy fighting within Israel because Hezbollah is threatening to conquer cities and military bases,” said Lotan. “We have a lot of cooperation with the army and the police. We’re preparing for the situation, training with them, doing everything that is needed.”

“We at MDA wake up every morning and ask ourselves how we can make sure we are better prepared for any emergency,” says Shacham, “because when MDA is prepared, the State of Israel is more resilient.”

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In the United States, disaster relief, ambulance and blood services are handled by an array of organizations. In Israel, there’s one organization that does it all: Magen David Adom. Although MDA’s role is mandated by the Israeli government, it’s not a government agency. As Israel’s official representative to the International Red Cross, MDA’s role precludes it from accepting governmental support for its general operations. Because of this arrangement, the agency relies on support from donors, including those from the United States, to keep its dispatch systems, training and equipment the best in the world.
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