Op-Ed

Partnership between FAU, Israel hospital will leave Florida better prepared to face natural disaster

Dr. Elhanan Bar-On works with medical personnel tending to a child.
Dr. Elhanan Bar-On works with medical personnel tending to a child. Israel Center for Disaster Medicine and Humanitarian Response

Hurricane Florence recently plowed into the Carolinas, causing widespread destruction, taking lives and reminding us how powerful and terrifying these storms can be. Floridians know all too well the dangers of hurricane season.

Last year, unpredictable Hurricane Irma killed more than 100 people, caused $50 billion in damage and forced 6 million Floridians to evacuate.

Hurricanes are just one of the many types of disasters, natural and manmade, that affect communities worldwide. Florida leaders know the responsibility that comes with such threats, and their dedicated and widespread response kept many out of danger.

A new historic partnership will make Florida even better prepared to handle a range of natural disasters and other large-scale emergencies.

This month, the Middle East’s largest and most advanced hospital, Israel’s Sheba Medical Center, and Florida Atlantic University (FAU) are creating a special emergency management training program in Boca Raton. Sheba doctors will provide imperative leadership training so that future FAU graduates are equipped to lead the most efficient and skilled recovery efforts possible during the next regional crisis.

This historic partnership will give Florida’s emergency management leaders better training for any kind of emergency, from a mass casualty incident like the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, the collapse of the pedestrian bridge at Florida International University or any chemical, biological or radioactive attack in the future.

During such crises, first responders, along with public safety and health professionals, are almost immediately on the ground to assist. Organizing the emergency response in the first few hours and days of a humanitarian crisis is imperative to save the maximum amount of people, reduce injuries and improve the quality of life in the aftermath of a disaster.

With Sheba Medical Center, FAU is tapping into the expertise of the most comprehensive hospital in Israel. Sheba is the only medical center in Israel that combines an acute care hospital and a rehabilitation hospital on one campus, and it is at the forefront of medical treatments, patient care, research, education and technology.

And one year ago, we established The Israel Center for Disaster Medicine and Humanitarian Response at Sheba. Our teams are committed to helping people all over the world and are often first on the ground, treating patients, saving lives and organizing the emergency response.

Our medical teams have earned a reputation for traveling anywhere we are needed in the world — from a cholera outbreak in Zambia to restoring vision to the blind in Papua, New Guinea, to treating burn victims in Guatemala following a volcanic eruption. We also have provided training in emergency and disaster management to teams from many other countries across the globe. And now this cutting-edge, humanitarian work brings us to Florida and FAU.

This collaboration with FAU can be a huge multiplier for both institutions. Two and two can easily become much larger than four. I, along with Professor Kobi Peleg, the director of the advisory board of Sheba’s Israel Center for Disaster Medicine and Humanitarian Response, and Professor Yitshak Kreiss, the director general of Sheba Medical Center, will lead the training together with additional faculty from Sheba including experts in both physical and emotional trauma, as well as American experts on local management.

I have been doing this kind of work for my entire life. As an orthopedic surgeon and disaster specialist, I’ve been on the frontlines of crises around the globe, both with the Israel Defense Forces and with various governmental and non-governmental organizations.

The innocent victims of these calamities stay with me long after I leave a beleaguered area.

I remember a young Haitian woman who was rescued from beneath the earthquake rubble in 2010. Her leg was crushed, and I treated her in the chaotic aftermath. Many months later, I had the privilege of returning to Haiti to be by her side as she took her first steps on her prosthetic leg. It is because of people like her, a vision of strength and tenacity, that I do what I do.

FAU should be applauded for its extraordinary work to make this partnership a reality. This kind of collaboration and commitment to saving lives embodies the ethos of Sheba.

Israel’s Sheba Medical Center is dedicated to helping this region with preparedness and recovery efforts during future disasters. Together, we will work to protect and make the citizens of Florida safer and stronger than ever.

Elhanan Bar-On is director of The Israel Center for Disaster Medicine and Humanitarian Response at The Chaim Sheba Medical Center in Israel.

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