A parking lot converts to an underground hospital in wartime.

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) – Two major hospitals in Israel are building underground facilities in preparation for Israel’s next war.

During the Israeli-Hezbollah war two years ago, Israel was hit by thousands of missiles, forcing a million Israelis to flee their homes for safe haven further south or hunker down in bomb shelters or security rooms. Hospitals located in northern Israel were under threat as well.

Haifa’s Rambam Hospital was a center of medical activity in northern Israel. But the hospital, built by the British 70 years ago, had no proper bomb shelters, said Rambam spokesman David Ratner.

Situated between two naval bases (Hezbollah targets) and near a major Mediterranean Sea port, just 21 miles from the border with Lebanon, Rambam became a target for Hezbollah missile attacks. Some 20 to 30 rockets landed nearby and two actually hit the hospital’s fence. Every time a rocket hit city at all, the hospital shook, Ratner told CNSNews.com.

The largest hospital in northern Israel, Rambam also received wounded soldiers from the war front in addition to treating civilians.

Most of the hospital wards faced north and had to be moved to an underground parking garage that ended up looking like a 19th century field hospital, said Ratner. Some of the departments, such as the emergency room and intensive care units, couldn’t be moved and were left completely exposed.

After the war, hospital management decided that the first priority was to build underground facilities, Ratner said. The emergency room also is being fortified, he added.

Groundbreaking already has taken place for a new $25-million underground facility, which will be the first of its kind in Israel. Above ground, Rambam is building a new children’s hospital, research facility, cardiovascular hospital and oncology hospital, Ratner said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert already has warned that Israel’s next war probably will be even harder on the civilian population.

The Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist organization in Lebanon is believed to have a missile arsenal three times bigger than it was two years ago, and those rockets have an even longer range.

According to Health Ministry spokeswoman Einav Shimron, while hospitals are not required to build underground facilities, they are required to develop security to protect patients “relevant” to the security threats facing Israel today.

Architect Arad Sharon is designing the two underground hospitals.

Ichilov Hospital in the central coastal city of Tel Aviv also is building an underground facility. Tel Aviv escaped the rocket fire two years ago. But it may not escape longer-range rocket attacks in a future war.

“Tel Aviv is also a target,” said Sharon. The hospital is located near the army’s central command center, he said, which might be targeted.

Ichilov is building a cardiology hospital above the underground shelter, he said.

Israel will use new underground hospital units as parking lots in peacetime.
Both Rambam and Ichilov plan to use their new underground facilities as parking lots in peacetime. They can be converted to 650-bed hospital facilities within 48 hours, Sharon told CNSNews.com.

They will be self-sufficient facilities with their own water, electric and hospital gases supply. They will also be protected against chemical and biological attacks, said Sharon.

While it might be hard to imagine a parking garage becoming a hospital, Sharon said they are being designed with special cement floors, lighting and colors to make them look as “nice as possible.”

Sharon is a third generation architect in Israel. His grandfather, Arie (not Ariel) Sharon, along with Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion designed the first master plan for Israel. Sharon’s firm now specializes in developing hospitals, he said.

Sharon said he hoped the need would never arise for the underground facilities to be used as hospitals. “I really hope the spaces will be used for parking,” he said.