Seismograph showing earthquake
Seismograph showing earthquake iStock

Only 6 percent of Israel’s Haredi community describes itself as having ever prepared for an earthquake, according to a new survey conducted by researchers from the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT) and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Motivated by recent research into the bed of the Dead Sea which revealed that an earthquake large enough to cause thousands of deaths could hit Israel in the coming years, the JCT-Hebrew University survey offered the Haredi community as a case study for examining the effect of religious beliefs and minority status on earthquake preparedness as well as for recommending “ways for improving risk mitigation in religious minority communities,” according to the survey’s original publication in the Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences journal.

The findings highlight the vulnerability of Haredi society in times of emergency, a situation that has already been amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the respondents — who were mostly from Jerusalem, and also came from the Haredi population centers of Modi'in Illit, Bnei Brak, and Elad — just 6 percent answered affirmatively when asked, “Overall, have you prepared for an upcoming earthquake in Israel?” Sixty-eight percent said they were not aware of the need to disconnect electric and gas switches following an earthquake. Fifty-nine percent believed they did not have the knowledge to deal with an earthquake. Fifteen percent of respondents who are parents of small children said that they had discussed earthquake emergency rules with their children, and only 3 percent had practiced those rules with them.

In addition to gaps in earthquake preparedness knowledge, the Haredi respondents also exhibited disbelief that a devastating earthquake would occur in the near future. Fifty-five percent believed that the chances of a disastrous earthquake transpiring in Israel within the next five years are nonexistent or low, a figure that rose to 64 percent when respondents were asked to assess the likelihood of such an earthquake in close proximity to their area of residence. The respondents' disbelief is higher than in Israeli society in general as found in a previous study.

The in-depth interviews and focus groups with various stakeholders illuminated the factors that have an adverse effect on the Haredi public's level of preparedness, including technological disparities, low exposure to media outlets where the instructions are published, insularity of educational institutions, suspicion toward state authorities, and low socioeconomic status. However, the strong social capital in Haredi society can be leveraged to improve its level of preparedness and its functioning in times of emergency. Moreover, the findings point to a complex effect of Haredi religious beliefs and worldviews on disaster preparedness. While many expressed fatalistic attitudes, most respondents believed that there is a religious obligation to prepare for a disaster.

It is incumbent upon policymakers in Israel or in any country to take these findings into consideration when attempting to upgrade the emergency preparedness of religious groups, the study asserted. Twenty-five percent of respondents said that learning about the high probability of an earthquake occurring in their area would help convince the Haredi community to better prepare for that event, and 68 percent said an instruction from a religious leader or a ruling under Jewish law would encourage emergency preparedness. The study also laid out several policy recommendations based on participants’ opinions, some of which included: the state setting clear, binding, and measurable preparedness standards and goals but allowing the local communities the autonomy and flexibility to decide how to reach these goals with state funds and monitoring; collaborating with civil organizations that are perceived as legitimate by the Haredi society that can lead and coordinate the preparation initiatives in this society; lectures, activities, drills, and seminars in Haredi educational institutions and during family activities; publishing the guidelines in Haredi newspapers, street ads, neighborhood leaflets, news websites, and radio channels; and adapting emergency technologies to make them acceptable for the community.

The study is poised to resonate strongly with the student body at JCT, where more than 2,000 of the College’s 4,700 students come from Haredi backgrounds.

“There is a pressing national need in Israel for continuous and consistent work with the Haredi community before the occurrence of a natural disaster, in order to reduce these gaps in perception surrounding emergencies,” said Dr. Zvika Orr, a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Life and Health Sciences at JCT, and a lead researcher on the earthquake study.

“Although we have documented a situation that leaves much room for improvement, goodwill on the part of the Israeli authorities can be met with goodwill on the part of considerable sections of the Haredi sector when it comes to emergency preparedness,” said Prof. Amotz Agnon of Hebrew University’s Institute of Earth Sciences.

Did you find a mistake in the article or inappropriate advertisement? Report to us