You are going about your day, and suddenly the siren sounds. Terrorists have fired a rocket at your city. Who exactly tracks where the rocket landed, and who sends emergency forces to the scene? Meet the IDF reservists who are ready to help at a moment’s notice.
Here in Israel, we all live under the constant threat of terrorists firing rockets from the Gaza Strip, Lebanon and Syria. Even though the Iron Dome system is in place to protect us, an unexpected event can always occur.
If a rocket does fall in a civilian area, paramedics, Home Front Command rescue teams and the police need to get there as quickly as they can, and they need someone to guide them to the location of the hit. This is the job of the Home Front Command Observations Unit.
The unit is made up entirely of reserve soldiers, and operates only in cases of emergency. The unit’s soldiers identify the type and size of the rocket that hit and what damage it caused. This helps them track down exactly where it landed, so that they can direct the rescue forces to the scene.
The unit places teams in the tallest building in every Israeli city, which gives them a 360 degree view of the area. These soldiers know their cities back to front. The unit is equipped with special protective outfits in case an unconventional bomb hits. They must continue to do their jobs no matter what.
Every district has one or two observation units. “All of our soldiers have a background in this field,” says Maj. Avi Bruskin, the commander of the Central District Observation Unit. “Most of them come originally from the Combat Intelligence Corps. 45 percent of the force is made up of women. We have a very close family-like atmosphere here.”
A rocket falls. What happens next?
To get the most accurate mark point, the Observation Unit uses a unique system. “Every position has a compass and binoculars, the most basic observation tools,” says Maj. Bruskin. “We also use special system called ‘Atlason’. This system combines binoculars with a screen, a laser lineup and a GPS.” The system is equipped with night vision equipment, and can use the location of the moon and the stars as a ‘natural GPS’.
But what exactly happens when a rocket falls? The laser and GPS track down exactly where it landed, and the soldiers evaluate the damage. “Most of the time we don’t even use the Atlason system, because we know the area so well, but it’s still good to have it,” Maj. Bruskin says. The team then reports the incident to the local Home Front Command situation room, which sendsrescue forces. The observers also direct the rescuers if the location is difficult to find.
Operating in emergencies
The unit operates only in emergencies. “There was a lot of fear [throughout the Israeli population] during the Iraq War,” Maj. Avi notes. “But while everyone else stayed at home, we were spread across Israel’s rooftops for over a month. During Pillar of Defense, our southern units worked particularly hard.”
To stay in shape, the unit exercises together once a year, and also participates in other Home Front Command exercises. “My biggest hope is that emergencies don’t occur at all, but we are ready if they do,” he says.
“The unit is like a big family,” say Maj. Avi. “Whenever there is an emergency, everyone is very happy to help, even though they all have to leave their families and friends at home. They are always on alert, ready to protect their families and friends from the rooftops.”