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ZAKA Expands International Rescue Unit

After years of experience in dealing with mass casualty incidents in Israel and around the world, ZAKA is expanding its International Rescue Unit.
By Walter Bingham
First Publish: 3/13/2009, 12:28 PM

After years of experience in dealing with mass casualty incidents in Israel and around the world, ZAKA - the Israel-based, United Nations-recognized volunteer rescue and recovery organization - is expanding its International Rescue Unit.

Against the background of international terror and increasing anti-Semitic attacks, ZAKA will recruit and train teams of volunteers worldwide to act as emergency medical first responders, able to assist the local emergency services.

Zaka emergency responders were among the first on the scene at the bulldozer-terror attack in southern Jerusalem last week, in which a police car was repeatedly flipped over with two officers inside. They were lightly wounded.

The head of Zaka’s International Rescue Unit, Mati Goldstein, who recently led the six-member ZAKA team that assisted at the plane crash site in Buffalo, New York, said, "With this training scheme, we intend to share ZAKA's experience and expertise with communities around the world so that we can all be better prepared to deal with every type of emergency."

Volunteers from all over the world will be able to participate in the five-day basic training program, scheduled for this May. The course will include certification as emergency medical first responders; security preparedness and response; dealing with mass casualty incidents; honouring the dead; forensics work; and simulation of hands-on emergency drills. It will take place either at ZAKA headquarters in Israel, including accommodations, or in local communities for groups of 10-15 with training given by ZAKA personnel from Israel.

Doctors and Others Have Signed Up
Doctors, Chevra kadisha (ritual burial societies) members, and community leaders in the States, South Africa and the UK are among volunteers who have already signed up for the courses.

"As graduates of the course," Goldstein said, "they will have the skills needed to take care of their own community in times of emergency and be part of a well-established and proven international rescue and recovery unit,"

ZAKA’s assistance at major international terror attacks and natural disasters, such as the Thailan tsunami and the New Orleans Katrina hurricane, led the United Nations to recognize ZAKA in 2005 as an international volunteer humanitarian organization. This recognition enables ZAKA to offer emergency assistance even before the host country has formally asked for help or even when the country has no diplomatic ties with Israel, as was the case following a plane crash in Namibia.

ZAKA members were the first Israeli emergency personnel to arrive in Mumbai this past November, where they worked round the clock in recovering the victims of the Chabad House siege, honoring the dead, assisting with forensic identification and recovering Torah scrolls and holy books. They also assisted in the recovery and identification of victims from the Buffalo plane crash, in which two American Jews and an Israeli were among the dead.

Further information about ZAKA is available at <www.zaka.org.il>, <www.zaka.us> or <www.zaka.org.uk>. The organization also has French and Italian websites.

Hillel Fendel contributed to this story.