The Local Authority as an Essential Building Block in Handling Emergencies

Brig. Gen. (res.) Nitzan Nuriel reviews the tools provided by the Israeli government to local authorities so that they may conduct their own preparations for the emergencies expected to develop in the various sectors. Opinion

Photo: Meir Azulay

The IDF recently conducted another national home front training exercise, codenamed "Turning Point". This exercise is expected to trigger a series of summations and lesson-drawing processes whose conclusions will be stored along with those of the previous exercises. The objective of this column is to critically review the tools provided to local authorities so that they may conduct their own preparations for the emergencies expected to develop in the various sectors. In other words, does the local authority, in its present configuration and using the tools currently available to it, actually constitute the basic building block in the process of handling emergencies? If not, what complementary resources should be provided so that the local authority possess the relevant tools?

The lessons of the Second Lebanon War regarding the operations of the IDF Home Front Command and its working relations with the local authorities were already addressed in a countless number of reports, in view of which many changes have been made with the intention of empowering the local authorities.

The linkage between authority and responsibility is indisputable, namely – if we assigned a mission to a certain element, it would be our duty to ensure that the authority delegated to that element is compatible with the responsibility it is expected to assume owing to the very definition of the mission but equally owing to the extent to which that element is capable of accomplishing the missions assigned to it.

The Israeli national security concept, with regard to internal security aspects as well as to border security aspects, assigns a precedence to preventive measures, with the intention of minimizing the need to act after the emergency situation had already begun. In coming to examine the preventive measures with which we provide the local authorities, the picture that emerges is worrisome. A few examples are described below.

Collection of intelligence in the social media – this activity is a highly significant factor in the context of the effort to locate radical elements that possess the potential of engaging in terrorism or violence. Local authorities possess neither the tools nor the authority to collect intelligence in the social media.

Removal of hazards – in this case, too, even if the local authority believes that a certain activity or enterprise, or a part thereof, does not contribute to security (to put it mildly), it will not be able to remove it. Instead, it will have to initiate an exhausting bureaucratic process that might not even reach a timely conclusion (refer to the case of the ammonia tank near Haifa as a test case).

Training exercises – assuming that practicing makes a considerable contribution to preparedness, to the lesson-drawing process and to the ability to improve the potential capacity for dealing with emergencies, this field, too, is not under the complete control of the local authority, as it cannot force the auxiliary elements and/or enterprises within its jurisdiction to participate in training exercises.

Practically speaking, I believe that a new and different way of thinking is required regarding the manner in which we expect the local authority to constitute the basic building block in the process of coping with emergency situations. We should emphasize the preventive elements (some of which were outlined above). It is unfair to assign the responsibility to the local authority without providing it with the relevant authority.

The way to perform this process effectively is to establish two or three work groups that would attempt to develop an improved model for the three types of local authorities we have in Israel: urban municipalities, local councils and regional councils (naturally, there are other, secondary types but it is not my intention to address them in this column). Such a process, intended to examine the ways to enhance the preventive capabilities, will no doubt improve the resolve and resilience of the local authorities and ratify the intention to regard the local authority as the basic building block in the process of handling emergencies.

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Brig. Gen. (res.) Nitzan Nuriel is the former head of Israel's Counterterrorism Bureau. He served in the IDF for nearly 30 years, during which he served as the IDF Ground Forces attaché in Washington, among other roles.  

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