By Mara Fahl/JNS.org
For most organizations, moving underground would be an ominous decision. For Israel’s national blood services center, it’s an exciting one.
Nov. 16 marked the groundbreaking for the Jewish state’s new state-of-the-art central blood bank. Located in Ramla, the facility will be the world’s first completely underground national blood services center. Israel’s challenging reality affects every key aspect of the design of the center, including its subterranean location.
Every day, bright yellow vans traverse Israel to collect blood donations. Many who donate through the vans are simply passing by, and sometimes communities organize blood donor events. Yet essentially all Israelis are familiar with these vans, which they can’t help but notice. The fully equipped vehicles, which collect 17 percent of Israel’s annual blood supply, are the most visible part of the mobile units of Magen David Adom (MDA)—Israel’s national emergency medical, disaster, ambulance and blood bank service. The entire system of mobile units gathers 90 percent of the blood that is donated annually.
What happens to the blood after it is collected? That is lesser-known—and it will soon be even harder to see.
Just 15 minutes outside of Tel Aviv, Israel’s technology and culture capital, is the country’s current central blood bank. The National Blood Services Center is a clearinghouse for sorting, packaging and storing blood, which is then delivered to hospitals and critical care units around the country. Of the 280,000 blood units that pass through the center’s doors each year, 250,000 are sent to hospitals around the country as needed. An additional 37,000 liters of surplus plasma are used by MDA’s pharmaceutical plant to prepare products such as Factor VIII, albumin and gamma globulin.
No drop of this precious resource goes to waste, but because it is concentrated in a single and vulnerable location, there is a risk that major damage to the center could decimate the nation’s entire system of blood resources. In fact, any damage to the center could reverberate throughout Israel if it slowed down or cut off the blood supply for hospitals and emergency centers.
Securing the blood supply
After the Hamas terror group’s rockets rained down on Tel Aviv during the Gaza conflicts of 2012 and 2014, forcing the current central blood bank to operate from what it described as the woefully insufficient workspace of a bomb shelter, the need to secure the country’s blood supply became clearer than ever. Israel has responded by starting the construction of the forthcoming underground blood services center in Ramla. But security is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the carefully considered elements of the center.
While Ramla is not one of Israel’s largest cities, it is one of the country’s most centrally located municipalities and is about 11 miles from Ben Gurion International Airport. Even though Israel is a small country, the new building’s easy access to major highways is crucial for the quick delivery of blood to hospitals.
The dangers that Israel faces, meanwhile, are not always related to war and terrorism. Israel lies on two massive geological fault lines and is subject to small-scale earthquakes somewhat regularly. Although there hasn’t been a major earthquake in the country in 100 years, earthquakes are a real concern in the Israeli construction industry, and the new center will meet the highest level of safety standards.
When Israel’s current national blood center was built in 1987, the country’s population was just 4.4 million. Today it is more than 8 million. With MDA supplying blood for both civilians and members of the military in need, capacity is as much a concern as security, said MDA Director General Eli Bin.
Bin told JNS.org that "due to the challenges faced by our country both in terms of security and possible natural disasters, MDA must maintain its high standard and build a blood services center that's compatible with Israel's population growth rate as well as the aforementioned challenges."
The facility will be named the Marcus National Blood Services Center following the Marcus Foundation’s recent $25 million donation toward the cost of the $110 million project. A total of about $74 million has been raised for the project so far, largely as a result of the efforts of American Friends of Magen David Adom, the Israeli organization’s U.S.-based fundraising arm. Once the center is built, Israel’s current National Blood Services Center will be used as an annex, allowing MDA to expand its services even further.
While the rocket attacks from Hamas-ruled Gaza may have been a catalyst for the project, Professor Eilat Shinar, MDA’s chief blood services officer, said the rockets only confirmed what the organization already knew.
“After the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Operation Cast Lead in 2008, and the other conflicts with Gaza in 2012 and 2014, it became very clear to us at MDA that the current National Blood Services Center simply doesn't cut it,” Shinar told JNS.org. “We realized that if we wanted to prevent a major health crisis in Israel, we must build an improved and highly secured blood bank.”