Murphy's Law: Civil Defense Illusions

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October 23,2008:  Twelve years ago, Israel decided to upgrade its civil defense arrangements. They passed a law mandating that new houses have at least one "bomb proof" safe room, to be used as a shelter during rocket attacks. But most builders have ignored the law. It's expensive. To add such a room to existing houses would cost about $25,000 per home. But many Israelis have designated one room in the house as the "safe room", and perhaps reinforced it a bit, and stored emergency supplies there.

Since 1990, Israeli civilians have had gas masks for protection against chemical attack by Iraqi missiles. Four years ago, those gas masks were collected, checked, refurbished as needed and stored in army warehouses. The government felt that, with Saddam Hussein out of power, there was no other potential source of chemical attack, so no need to maintain the gas masks in the hands of the civilian population. But now Syria seems more of a threat. The refurbishment of the millions of gas masks was recently completed, and the danger of war with Syria (which has chemical warheads for its missiles) has led the government to distribute the gas masks once more. But then politics and fussy bureaucrats intervened. Although the masks were to be distributed in January, a budget dispute between the Defense and Treasury officials, the money to hire a contractor to actually distribute the masks got lost in the shuffle. So everyone is hoping the Syrians will delay any chemical attacks until later in 2009, so that the money can be found to get the gas masks distributed to potential poison gas victims. It's unclear if the Foreign Ministry has been alerted to the need to deal with the diplomatic aspects of this.

 


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