Home Front Command reaches out to non-Hebrew speakers

The Home Front Command’s Information Center

The command tasked with protecting Israel’s civilians in time of emergency – military or otherwise – is working with translators to make safety instructions more accessible

Date: 05/04/2013, 9:09 PM     Author: Dana Petrov and IDF (Zahal) Website

The IDF (Zahal)’s Home Front Command is taking steps to make safety instructions more accessible to non-Hebrew speakers. The instructions, which cover topics ranging from preparing for natural disasters to how to protect oneself in case of a terror attack to first aid, are now available in a vast selection of languages.

The Home Front Command, which is tasked with saving lives and assisting civilians during both military and non-military emergencies, frequently performs missions designed to keep Israel’s home front safe in time of need. Its activities include distributing safety equipment, performing search-and-rescue missions in Israel and abroad, and providing potentially life-saving information to Israel’s civilian population.

The Home Front Command’s Information Center recently inaugurated a new call-routing system enabling speakers of foreign languages to speak on the phone with a representative of the Home Front Command and a translator. Should the IDF (Zahal) be unable to provide a translation into a particular language in real time, the operators will record the caller’s phone number and call back with a translator on the line.

“Ultimately, what is important is that each of the information platforms be available to civilians, who will know that there is an address for every question,” Col. Sigal Tidhar, Head of the Home Front Command’s Population Department, told the IDF (Zahal) Website. “The center is available 24/7, and now we have also successfully addressed [foreign] languages through a translation company that gives us this service. Right now, the response is provided immediately, and even during Operation Pillar of Defense we reinforced the stations so there would be no waiting time.”

The linguistic diversity of Israeli society makes the Home Front Command’s work with translators particularly important. Israel’s two official languages are Hebrew and Arabic, while immigrants from many countries speak a variety of languages. According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, as of 2011, 18 percent of Israelis speak Arabic as their mother tongue, while Russian is the first language of 15 percent. Smaller numbers of Israelis are native speakers of other languages, including Amharic, English, French, German, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish and Yiddish.

Using the Internet to save lives

The Home Front Command also offers support to those who prefer to receive safety directions via the Internet. These instructions are posted on the Command’s official website, which is now available in Arabic, English, Hebrew and Russian.

The websites provide safety instructions for a variety of emergency scenarios, including earthquakes, hazardous materials leaks, fires, floods, rocket attacks and other terror attacks. The topics covered on the websites include preparation for such emergencies, behavior in time of emergency and first aid directions.

In order to enable easy mobile access to these websites, a smartphone-compatible version is expected to come online in the near future. “There will be the option of using a [mobile] device to access the site with a resolution suited for the smartphone,” Col. Tidhar explained. “We’ve already done all the tests and [received] the approvals, and it works.”