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Israel to the Rescue

July 5, 2018

by: Kathy DeGagne, BFP Staff Writer

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IDF Search and Rescue units in Mexico 2017

When the earth shakes anywhere on the globe, Israel is one of the first countries to spring into action and lend aid. Maybe it’s because Israel herself sits atop a massive fault line and understands all too well the destruction caused by a major earthquake. Or it could be that Israel’s swift response arises from the Jewish concept of tikkun olam (repairing the world), one of the defining qualities of the Jewish state and one that motivates her to immediate action when other countries are in crisis.

The Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) Search and Rescue (SAR) units as well as Israel’s many civilian SAR  teams are primed and ready to respond immediately to any type of disaster, anywhere in the world.

Military Search and Rescue Units

In the powerful aftermath of lethal tremors that shook Mexico in September 2017, 71 Israeli personnel from the IDF Home Front Command SAR brigade were on the ground within 23 hours, combing the rubble for people trapped in the debris.

The SAR unit was first established in 1984 and called into action for the Armenian earthquake (1988), the bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina (1994) and earthquakes in Turkey, India, Haiti and Mexico. A fourth SAR battalion was added to the original three battalions in 2012, when the IDF recognized the need for more highly trained search and rescue technicians.

The SAR brigade comprises male and female combat soldiers who also serve as search and rescue personnel. They focus on defending the country from threats posed by enemies and terrorists, as well as on rescuing people in trouble in Israel and abroad.

The SAR team operates state-of-the-art search and rescue equipment, treats people injured in warfare and natural disasters and decontaminates areas affected by chemical agents. The brigade served in Operation Protective Edge in 2014, when the soldiers had to cross into Gaza armed with an M-16 assault rifle and up to 35 kg. (77 lbs.) of rescue equipment. They are trained to rescue trapped civilians and soldiers from collapsed buildings and, at the same time, face an enemy that can be armed with conventional, biological or chemical weapons.

The IDF Unit 669 is a completely separate SAR unit of the Israeli Air Force and is reserved for combat rescue, the evacuation of soldiers and civilians in wartime scenarios and airborne rescue operations. Unit 669 is on round-the-clock alert and was recently called into action to do an air search for survivors when ten students were killed by flash floods in southern Israel. The unit has underwater, rappelling, combat, medical and air expertise.

Civilian SAR Units

IDF Search and Rescue units in Nepal 2015

The IDF Home Front Command regularly holds search and rescue training exercises in coordination with civilian rescue organizations. The search and rescue efforts mounted for Nepal in 2015 highlighted the importance of collaboration between the military and non-military SAR organizations that Israel is able to mobilize in a disaster.

Volunteers from IsraAID, United Hatzalah, FIRST Israel, iAID, ZAKA International Rescue Unit, Magen David Adom, Israel Rescue Coalition and other civilian rescue teams lend their own expertise to the total rescue effort. They contribute to disaster relief with medical, rappelling, underwater, air rescue and canine skills and are available to answer any emergency situation in Israel and around the world. Some teams also focus on mental health issues and are training other countries on how best to treat trauma victims after a major crisis.

In the stormy “week-to-remember” of September 2017, when vicious tornados, hurricanes, storm surges and floods affected Florida, Texas, Haiti, Mexico and the islands of the Caribbean, Israel responded by sending their aid organizations to help. Israel has conducted disaster relief, medical and psychological aid and environmental and educational programs in almost 150 locations on the globe.

The New Technology behind Search and Rescue Operations

Rescuing disaster victims as quickly as possible can be a matter of life and death, and Israel’s SAR teams utilize the most up-to-date equipment to make efficient and safe rescues possible. Many of the leading innovations in search and rescue can be attributed to Israel’s own entrepreneurs.

Imagery vision systems that can see objects through walls and high-tech drones that can give SAR teams an aerial view of the disaster can help locate victims of earthquakes and storms in very challenging conditions.

Dogs, with their well-honed sense of smell, are regularly used to locate victims buried under the rubble, and in recent years, electronic locator devices have also been utilized. These can detect seismic and acoustic emissions from victims. Other geo-location devices can locate people using signals from their cell phones even when cell service is down, accurately detect their locations and even identify victims’ names. This system was used by Israel in rescue operations in the Mexico quake.

At the same time, Israel invariably makes every effort to minimize human casualties and property damage during any terrorist event or natural disaster. When the further collapse of a building is a threat or when a terror attack is in progress, robots or unmanned search and rescue systems are used to help victims when the conditions are not safe for human intervention. Certain robots can maneuver in extremely confined spaces, negotiate all kinds of obstructions, work autonomously and send images back to the rescuers.

As global disasters escalate both in frequency and potency, Israel’s search and rescue capabilities are increasingly sought-after by many countries in crisis. And Israel, as always, continues to answer the calls for help.

Photo Credit: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit/www.flickr.com/idfonline

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