by Dave Bender
JERUSALEM, Oct. 17 (Xinhua) -- Israel's Rambam medical center in Haifa is digging in as part of a massive project to fortify the center against what officials hope the emergency facility will never have to endure, a direct conventional, chemical, or biological attack.
The 1,000-bed hospital came under several Katyusha rocket attacks by Hezbollah in Lebanon during Israel's month-long war against the organization in the summer of 2006, and the hospital management admit that they weren't prepared.
"This is not something we took into account. In fact, the hospital itself could be vulnerable... that we were saving lives on the one hand, but at the same time, were vulnerable to loss of life because of deadly missile attacks," said Professor Karl Skorecki, who directs medical and research development at the center, according to a statement sent to Xinhua.
Rambam is the country's largest and most comprehensive center of its kind in the north, and serves some 75,000 people annually, and a half a million more as outpatients, including trauma treatment, oncology, and neurosurgery.
The center, which boasts 45 medical units, nine institutes, six laboratories and 30 administrative and maintenance departments, is also Israeli Army's principal medical facility for the Northern Command.
"For 33 days, it was the major hospital in northern Israel that was, in itself, under attack, having to lead the treatment and therapy for all the casualties of the civilian population around us and at the same time, the casualties of the army that were brought to us from the fierce battles in Lebanon," said Rambam General-Director and Chief Executive Officer Rafael Beyar.
So, in order to plan for the worst-case scenario in the face of increasing missile threats from the north and beyond, the hospital chiefs decided to build what they say will be the world's largest war-hardened underground medical facility.
On Saturday evening, more than 70 workers began to pour some 7, 000 cubic meters of concrete for the slab of what would be Rambam' s protected emergency underground hospital and three-story underground parking lot. The 36-hour concrete pour involved 80 cement mixers, 1,000 rounds of mixing, and four Haifa-area concrete plants to supply raw materials around the clock, according to a hospital statement.
The scope of the pour was so great, according to Rambam Department of Engineering Director Aryeh Berkovitz, that it temporarily monopolized all of the available concrete in central and northern Israel to fill the five-acre, 20-meter deep pit. The construction team is planning another four such deliveries throughout the winter, to fulfill the project's need.
When completed, the three-floor parking lot will serve the center's 1,500 workers, and visitors. But, in wartime or other emergency, officials say that within 48 hours, the parking lot can be switched over to a comprehensive, airtight and fully-stocked 2, 000-bed hospital, snuggled eight meters below sea-level.
The hospital will be able to generate its own power and will have enough stores of medical supplies, oxygen and drinking water for up to three days, according to officials.
Another critical need for the project, due to be completed in 2012, is financing. Hospital officials say they've already raised 350 million U.S. dollars, which they say covers only about half of the required funding.
But despite the funding bottleneck, Beyar is optimistic.
"This is a historic moment, not only for Rambam, but for the entire State of Israel. For a period of two years, we have coped with unexpected, difficult and weighty logistic problems regarding this construction. We overcame the obstacles, and with the help of our friends, donors and Ministry of Health officials, we are on the right path," Beyar said of the project.