August 29, 2004, Updated September 19, 2012

Rescue workers aid victims of the World Trade Center destruction on September 11, 2001.Besides a firm belief in democratic values, one striking similarity between Israel and the United States is that they are both targets of terror. Recognizing that combining ingenuity and knowhow is more effective than working alone, the two countries have joined forces to develop joint guidelines for evacuation standards that will minimize casualties in the event of disaster.

Nearly 3000 lives were lost when two planes crashed into New York’s Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. According to the officials findings of the committee formed to probe the disaster, there were no orderly evacuation procedures, and the instinct to flee clashed with instructions to remain, resulting in catastrophe.

Many lives could have been saved with proper evacuation techniques, and in the ensuing years, the U.S. government has looked to Israel for help in safeguarding against the next attack. The Israel Standards Institution (ISI) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) have been cooperating in an attempt to set a joint US-Israeli standard for homeland security. A ‘standard’ is a set of requirements that have been tested and have proved effective in certain situations.

In the U.S., the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is an umbrella organization, which coordinates voluntary standards in all areas of the economy. When it comes to homeland security, however, there were no current standards capable of withstanding the dangers facing them from international terror.

This is where Israeli expertise comes in. Michael Wolf, Director of the Standardization Division at ISI, said that if Israel and the U.S. could agree on joint standards, it would be beneficial for all parties involved.

“Israel would be able to participate in and define the technical requirements for the products that in the end they would want to sell,” he told ISRAEL21c. “And the Americans want to work with us because they realize that we have had a lot of experience in this field which they lack. Many of the technologies that we are using have been tried and found effective. We have standards in Israel in the field of homeland security which are not found anywhere else in the world.”

In the past, continued Wolf, the Americans have discovered that Israel has developed many products in the high tech industry for defense purposes, and realize that it can be done in reverse – adapting defense products for civilian use.

In a joint cooperation program with ANSI, one of the things ISI thought of is to look at how they can develop American and Israeli standards jointly. In that way the American standard would be the same as the Israeli standard and vice versa.

“Israeli industry would be involved in the development of an Israeli standard and the American standard would participate and define the technical requirements for the products that in the end they would want to sell,” said Wolf. It would also allow American industry to ease into the Israeli market because the standards would be identical and would facilitate cooperation between American and Israeli companies when developing new products.

A number of Israeli companies – most prominently Escape Rescue Systems and A.E.S Israel Ltd. – that are developing products for evacuation from buildings during an emergency situation, such as fires or a terrorist threat.

Escape Rescue Systems’ pilot project is a collapsible multi-platform system connected to the building resembling a lifeboat as it comes over the side of the building. According to CEO Jonathan Shimshoni, it consists of elevator-type cabins that travel down to the ground and open upward into five cabins. Upon opening, rescue workers are able to enter the building from the outside, help people get onto the platform, and then descend to the ground. The system has a capacity for evacuating 150 people at a time. However, Shimshoni emphasized that if more than one unit is used then approximately 300-450 people could be rescued.

Another innovative evacuation is the ‘Advance Modular Evacuation System’ invented by Eli Nir, CEO of AES Israel Ltd., who developed the idea after his eight- year old son, Ofer, had to be rescued from the top floor of a hotel that had caught fire.

The A.M.E.S system is a rescue chute, made of fire-resistant material, strengthened by a rounded spring and support cables. Mounted on a building the system?s internal power supply uncoils the chute when sensors detect smoke or intense heat. The chute can extend down twenty three stories in less than ten seconds. Former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, who is senior adviser to the company, was in Washington recently for a demonstration to District of Columbia fire officials.

Most companies like AES and Escape Rescue Systems are in a situation where they have a product which they are trying to sell on the American market, and they realize that one of the obstacles to breaking into the American market is the lack of a standard.

Ziva Patir, Director- General of the Israel Standards Institution (ISI), emphasized that while a product may be innovative, it would not be saleable without complying with a specific standard.

A channel was opened for Israeli companies to influence standards when a special international committee for homeland security was established. Patir, in her capacity of Vice-President (technical management) of the International Standards Organization, appointed Dr Avi Galor, Vice President of Research and Development at Rafael (Israel Armament Development Company), as the Israeli representative on the advisory committee together with Dr. George W. Arnold of ANSI.

Asked how standards are established, Galor explained, “We examine ways of defining the threats, and then decide what course of action should be taken. Standards have to be established as part of the measures to be taken. The first step is to look into existing standards and to see if they covered the needs of the security systems that deal with the threats.”

He went on to add that once the deficiencies in the existing standards are discovered, which were not designed specifically against terrorism, new standards will be created to deal with the new set of circumstances.

Galor added, “Israel is not the only country suffering from terrorism, and we would like, as Israelis, to contribute to the international effort to provide security to people all over the world against the constant threat of terror.”

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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