Counter-Terrorism: The Safe Room Goes For a Walk


June 8, 2007: An Israeli firm has developed a portable bomb shelter, the LifeShield, which can hold 30 people, for protection against rocket attacks by Arab terrorists. Using rockets to attacks Israeli civilians has become a favorite Arab terror tactic over the last six years.

One of the most active areas for such terrorist attacks against civilians has been southern Israel. Namely the area within seven kilometers of the Palestinian territory of Gaza. Within that seven kilometer border zone live about 40,000 Israelis. A little more than half of them live in the town of Sderot. In 2001, Palestinian terrorists, unable to get suicide bomber across the security fence along the Israeli border, began firing home made "Kassam" rockets into southern Israel. The rockets used metal pipes, filled with a mixture of fertilizer and sugar as a propellant, and a few pounds of explosives and a contact fuze in the front end. Although some fins ate attached, the missiles are not very accurate, most of them missing a large urban area like Sderot.

Since 2001, about 1,600 Kassams have been fired at Sderot. Nine people have been killed, and about fifty injured. The Israeli army has developed a radar system that provides 10-15 seconds warning, which is enough time to duck into a shelter. But Sderot only has 80 bomb shelters, most of them built 20-30 years ago and in need of repair. The 130 square foot LifeShield is made out of concrete and sheet metal, weigh 42 tons and is simply placed on the ground. The shelter is bulletproof, and can withstand a direct hit by a Kassam rocket. The shelters cost $36,000 each, including delivery to anywhere in Israel.

Eleven years ago, Israel passed a law mandating that new houses have at least one "bomb proof" safe room, to be used as a shelter during rocket attacks. But most builders have ignored the law. It's expensive. When the government built such safe rooms in 170 schools, it cost about $442,000 per school. To add such a room to existing houses would cost about $25,000 per home.

For the last seven years, people in Sderot have just been ducking behind any kind of cover, when they hear the alarm. Most of the people killed or injured were hit by a rocket that did not trigger an alarm. It was largely a case of an unexpected "boom", and that was that. But in the last month, the terrorists have increased their rate of attacks, averaging over a hundred rockets a week. As a result, about a third of the Sderot population has left town, hoping that things will eventually quiet down. The terrorists are encouraged by last Summers barrage of 4,000 Hizbollah rockets, which killed 57 Israeli civilians (half of them were Israeli Arabs), and wounded about 200. The target population in the north was about ten times what is was in southern Israel, but many civilians up north left their homes after the first rockets fell.

Israel is also developing an air defense system to shoot down such rockets, but does not expect to have anything operational until 2009, at the earliest. Meanwhile, the company that makes LifeShield has already delivered four of them to Sderot, and has proposed building bomb proof bus stops to provide even more protection.




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