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המכללה האקדמית בית ברל > English > About Us > News > Newsletter > April 2020 Newsletter > Beit Berl Expert: Crisis Should be Managed by Emergency Preparedness Professionals

Beit Berl Expert: Crisis Should be Managed by Emergency Preparedness Professionals

Dr. Avi Bitzur, head of the National Security and Home Front Defense program at Beit Berl's Faculty of Society and Culture and also an expert on gerontology, has a lot to say about how the pandemic is being handled in Israel.

Many people are asking to what extent Israel was prepared for an emergency such as the coronavirus pandemic. Since most of the virus's victims are senior citizens, Dr. Avi Bitzur, who is an expert in both emergency preparedness and gerontology, is uniquely positioned to analyze the current crisis. "From Day One we knew that old people are most in danger, but we didn't do anything. What happened in Israel's nursing homes is simply absurd. The residents weren't allowed to leave and families weren't allowed to visit, but they forgot to test the workers who came and went freely. As a result, nursing homes quickly became incubators for the virus," says Dr. Bitzur.

In Israel, there is a great deal of confusion about who is managing the crisis and how the decisions are being made. Dr. Bitzur firmly believes that this crisis―as well as other states of emergency―should be managed by professionals who are trained to do so. "At Beit Berl, I teach classes about preparedness and my dream is that the College will offer a full degree in education for emergency preparedness," he reveals.

Indeed, many entities are involved in managing the pandemic in Israel: the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Finance, the Shin Bet, the Mossad, local authorities and others. The army has been asked to step in to help communities where states of emergency have been declared, but soldiers can not help in other areas and their role is problematic. "Much confusion could be avoided if a professional organization were in charge of home-front defense," maintains Dr. Bitzur. "It is a profession that should be studied academically. In the U.S., one can receive a degree in emergency management."

Most people assume that Israel should mainly be preparing for such emergencies as incoming missiles from Hamas or Hezbollah, but Dr. Bitzur lists many other types of emergencies for which it is necessary to prepare, including earthquakes and other natural disasters, cyber attacks, and, of course, pandemics. Even though we know that there could soon be a massive earthquake along the Syrian-African fault line, we are not prepared for such a disaster, warns Dr. Bitzur.

There are approximately 1.3 million senior citizens in Israel (defined as women older than 62 and men older than 67), and only 6-7% live in nursing homes. Dr. Bitzur insists that the vast majority of senior citizens who are currently self-isolating in their homes are not being cared for adequately. "I recommend enlisting youth movements and young people not serving in the army to go door-to-door nationwide and collect information about all seniors currently living in isolation," he advises. "Municipalities only know about those receiving welfare services, but what about all the others? Someone needs to ask each one how they're coping and if they need anything. Maybe they want to hear live music from their balcony? The authorities should know how each senior citizen is faring physically and emotionally, and help them through this challenging period." Once all the at-risk seniors have been identified, he concludes, they should be tested for the virus, so that the economy can be safely reopened and economic disaster can be averted. 

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