Yoni Yagodovsky is director of international affairs for Magen David Adom, which provides ambulances, blood services and emergency medical response throughout Israel. He has been involved in the response to virtually every mass casualty incident in the Jerusalem area in the past 25 years.
Yagodovsky, 53, started with MDA as a youth volunteer in 1975 and was hired when he was in his mid-20s. He became a certified paramedic in 1990. A father of three, he lives in Jerusalem and was here in late February to brief supporters of American Friends of Magen David Adom on the problems the organization faces with its Blood Services Center. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Q: Why is the MDA’s National Blood Services Center near Tel Aviv in jeopardy?
A: We need to build a new one because the existing center is a pharmaceutical high-tech facility that been there 30 years and can no longer deal with the demand of new technologies. We are very close to the top of the facility in terms of the size of the building and its ability to absorb new technology. There is a need to make sure the new building will be better protected against earthquakes. The existing building was built using old regulations; we are concerned that it will not withstand an earthquake.
What is the likelihood of an earthquake?
There is a potential that it will happen, and every year that passes the potential is higher, according to the statistics. There are earthquakes in the Middle East, but most are not felt. The Syrian-African fault line [stretching from Syria to Mozambique and passing through Israel] is a seismically active area.
Is MDA prepared for an earthquake?
Two years ago we began training our teams and investing a lot. We know that if we were exposed to a severe earthquake, we would be forced to work in smaller and local community teams because we would not be able to provide national support from one region to the next. So we have pre-positioned people and are working with communities to build up local forces to be able to respond within the community for 24, 48 or 72 hours until things are clearer. It takes time to fully evaluate the extent of damage, and traffic might be a problem.
What kind of training has been done?
We have done exercises for local and intraregional support that involves the police, the fire department and the army. In October we had a national emergency exercise week that focused on earthquake preparedness and response. We are much more prepared than we were, say, four years ago.
What has MDA learned from its war with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006 and from the recent limited war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip?
When I was young, the front was the border with Lebanon, with Syria and Egypt — not the center of Israel, not Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Over the last 10 years, the civilian population in Israel is more and more the front. There is now no difference between the front lines and the center of the country, because the whole country is now threatened with missiles. They [recently] shot missiles towards Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and even Beersheba, the biggest city in the south.
Given that reality, what precautions can MDA take?
We have to make sure all of our offices have bomb shelters, that our ambulances are not all in one place, and that we have physically protective gear — body armor and helmets — for workers who are rushing to help people who are outside. We work with the home front command in these matters, because it is responsible for the civil population from the [Israel Defense Force]’s perspective.
MDA gets no government funding. What is its budget?
About $200 million annually, and 25 percent of that comes from donations. A significant portion is from the American Friends. The money is all invested in new ambulances, technology, medical supplies, blood services and advanced training for our medical teams. The other 75 percent we generate by charging for our services. But without donations, we would not be able to expand and invest in all the services we provide.