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Sirens Wail in Israel Drill

A nationwide five-day Home Front defense drill, code-named “Turning Point 4,” hit a peak on May 25 when sirens wailed across Israel simulating a missile attack. Israelis were asked to head for the nearest shelters or safe rooms, as part of an extensive drill meant to test national preparedness.

The siren, an alternately rising and falling wail, sounded for a minute and a half.

While civilians have no legal obligation to cooperate with the drill, surveys conducted by the Home Front Command found that last year about 40% participated. This year, it hopes the rate will exceed 50%.

Sirens sounded at various times in dozens of cities nationwide to test the siren systems.

The drill also included dozens of exercises in rescuing trapped or wounded civilians, evacuating them from zones under rocket fire and temporarily resettling them in safer areas.

Col. Hilik Sofer, who heads the Home Front Command’s population division, warned on May 24 that Israel “is at a low level of preparedness for the chemical threat, due to the distribution of gas masks. So far, we’ve distributed over 300,000 gas masks, but this must be improved.”

One thing the command was not happy about was the Education Ministry’s decision to hold standardized math assessment tests in 600 schools — meaning students in those schools would not practice fleeing their classrooms for safe rooms. Itai Benjamin, who heads the national parents’ council, was also unhappy, telling Army Radio that the ministry could just as easily have held the exam a few days earlier or later.

In other schools, however, students were expected to take part in the drill, and remained in the safe rooms for about 10 minutes after the sirens sounded.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak stressed that the drill does not reflect an assessment that war is likely anytime soon, but said it was necessary for Israel to be prepared.

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