Israel opens massive underground blood bank
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Israel opens massive underground blood bank

Secure facility in Ramla would guarantee supply during times of crisis

The Marcus National Blood Services Center (AFMDA)
The Marcus National Blood Services Center (AFMDA)

In a perfect world, there would be no need for a blood bank.

And certainly there would be no need for a subterranean blood bank meant to protect the lifegiving fluid from missile, chemical, and biological attack, as well as from earthquakes and other natural disasters.

But Israelis are masters of meeting the challenges of an imperfect world with resolute ingenuity.

And so it is no surprise that the world’s first underground anti-missile national blood services center was unveiled this month in Israel.

The $135 million Marcus National Blood Services Center is set on 5.6 acres in the mixed city of Ramla, about 20 minutes south of Ben-Gurion International Airport.

The building has six floors, three of which are underground in successively more secure levels designed to keep Israel’s national blood supply for civilians and soldiers safe from any kind of imaginable — or unimaginable — harm.

The center also houses the only non-commercial cord blood bank in Israel, a breastmilk bank, national laboratories, and the medical logistics facilities of Magen David Adom (Red Shield of David), Israel’s Red Cross network for emergency medical response and blood services. In 2021, Israelis donated 268,023 blood units.

The bulk of the funding for the unique project came from American Friends of Magen David Adom, MDA’s U.S.-based fundraising affiliate.

Philanthropists Mark and Jane Wilf of Livingston contributed more than $1 million through the Wilf Family Foundations of Short Hills.

MDA blood bank personnel work in the Ramat Gan processing facility that will become backup to the new one. (AFMDA)

“The Wilf Family Foundations are proud to support the Marcus National Blood Service Center that will double Israel’s blood processing capacity” to 500,000 blood units, Ms. Wilf said. “This state-of-the-art center will ensure a secure supply of blood for Israel regardless of any challenges or attacks, saving lives across the country.”

The national blood services facility now in use in Ramat Gan was built in the 1980s and is not large enough to meet the demands of Israel’s growing population or secure enough to meet the country’s needs in times of war. In the past, during rocket attacks, MDA has had to cease processing blood and move the country’s blood reserves into a bomb shelter.

The Ramat Gan facility will continue to function as a backup for the new Marcus Center, which is shielded with extra-thick concrete walls, blast doors, and airlocks, as well as biological and chemical protection across its three subterranean floors.

The first underground floor houses blood bank laboratories, a transportation center, and secure fleet parking for ambulances.

The second underground floor is equipped with a powerful air-filtration system that would enable staff to continue processing blood if there were a chemical or biological attack.

The third and deepest level contains the blood storage vault, a safe room shielded against the most severe missile threats, in which Israel’s strategic inventory of 25,000 blood components will be safeguarded in times of war.

To ensure continuity of operations in disaster scenarios, there are two ramps leading into the underground floors, four sets of elevators, and four generators.

The center bears the name of Bernie Marcus, the founder of Home Depot, and his wife, Billi, who donated $35 million to the project.

Mr. Marcus grew up in a Newark tenement, the son of Russian immigrants. His degree, in pharmacy, came from Rutgers, in 1954. He and a partner opened the first Home Depot stores in 1979. Now he’s 93 and lives primarily in Florida. To date, Billi and Bernie Marcus reportedly have donated more than $2 billion to education, healthcare, and Jewish and Israeli causes.

Jane and Mark Wilf

“On a visit many years ago to Israel’s blood bank, amid the missile and rocket attacks, I realized how delicate and vulnerable the blood system was,” Mr. Marcus recalled at the dedication ceremony on May 2.

“I am happy that we participated, from the very start, in the construction of this wonderful building, where Israel’s blood supply will be protected for all its citizens, Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike.”

Other significant contributions were made by Miriam and the late Sheldon Adelson, the Leona M. & Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, and Bloomberg Philanthropies. Americans donated another 600 major gifts; some 25 of those gifts were $1 million or more.

The dedication ceremony in Ramla drew about 500 people, including President Isaac Herzog, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, United States Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides, and other VIPs and American donors.

Mr. Herzog said that the Marcus National Blood Services Center “embodies the most moving essence of our shared humanity. To receive a blood transfusion — the irreplaceable gift of life — from complete strangers is a stark reminder that we are one living, breathing tapestry of humanity, now safeguarded in this impressive new center.”

Catherine Reed, AFMDA’s chief executive officer, noted that the strategic facility was designed and constructed in cooperation with the Prime Minister’s Office, Ministry of Defense, Israel Defense Forces, and the National Cyber Security Authority.

“The Marcus National Blood Services Center will enable Magen David Adom to save countless lives during times of war and peace, thanks to the Marcuses and the generous support of each and every one of our committed American donors,” she said.

“With threats from Iran and beyond, this new maximum-security facility will prepare the national emergency medical service to preserve life in the hardest of conditions,” she continued. “History has taught us to always be prepared — and no country on Earth has ever been this proactive in protecting its blood supply.”

Eli Bin, director-general of MDA, expressed his thanks “to our friends in the diaspora for making this dream a reality.

“The Marcus National Blood Services Center will ensure constant blood supplies under almost any scenario. This is another world first from Magen David Adom in our daily struggle to preserve life in the face of adversity,” he said.

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