Israeli Expertise Brings Closure to Surfside Disaster in Matter of Days

Israeli Expertise Brings Closure to Surfside Disaster in Matter of Days

Innovative technologies, methodologies speed up recovery efforts while staving off psychological damage to victims’ families, search teams


The operation to search for survivors and bodies in the rubble of the collapsed Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside, Florida, a suburb of Miami, has been ongoing for two weeks. Sixty-four people have so far been confirmed dead and 76 are officially still missing. (Additional bodies have been recovered but authorities have yet to add them until their families are notified.)

On Thursday, June 24, at roughly 1:25 am Eastern Daylight Time, the 12-story building collapsed suddenly, with some reports stating that long-term degradation and structural issues were to blame for the incident.

By Friday, an Israeli task force was onsite, sifting through the upper layers of rubble in 12-hour shifts. The Israeli government conveyed offers of help from the Israel Defense Forces’ Home Front Command search and rescue team, which has become a world-leading expert after assisting in many other disasters around the world.

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The IDF’s National Search and Rescue Unit, along with members of the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit of United Hatzalah, an Israeli emergency medical services organization, arrived in Surfside on Sunday morning. With them were volunteers from ZAKA, the Israeli emergency response organization that specializes in gathering body parts for Jewish burial. It was known that many Jewish residents, including 20 Israelis, were among the missing.

IDF Home Front Command: High-tech modeling shows where to search

Col. Golan Vach, commander of the IDF Home Front Command’s National Search and Rescue Unit, spoke to The Media Line from the site of the building collapse at Surfside. He said it was one of the worst disasters he had ever seen. “The mission is very difficult. We’re finding a lot of people dead, extracting them, pulling them out, finding memories, furniture, toys … all smashed.”

Asked about the cause of the collapse, Vach said it did not matter to search and rescue efforts. “What is important to us is the current situation.”

Using building information modeling tools and technologies and careful measurements taken on site, the Home Front Command was able to generate 3D digital models of the building before and after its collapse. This, combined with information gathered from surviving family members and friends, produced highly accurate information on where among the layered piles of debris each room in each apartment, and each missing person, could be expected to be found.

“We can tell you where each missing person is located based on the where the building stood initially and how it fell, where each apartment was, where each person slept,” Vach says. “We spoke to family members who gave us information on the layout of the apartments and the bedrooms where their loved ones slept. Many more bodies have been found, but officially the numbers are not released yet.”

Most of the modeling work was done in Israel before the team left for Florida. The last stage was done in the field, and completed hours after they arrived.

This high-tech modeling allows the Home Front Command to advise the search teams – altogether, hundreds of people that have come to Florida from across the US and around the world – on the exact locations where they should concentrate their efforts to find each and every missing person.

As a result, the recovery of bodies is much faster than would be possible otherwise, which helps bring closure to grieving families. Officially, 76 people remain missing. But in some cases, confirmation of death must be delayed until family can be notified, so the actual number still missing is significantly lower.