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Kerala Floods: The War Room Where Netas, Babus Marshalled e-Soldiers

The website, keralarescue.in, managed by a team of IAS officers and experts, evolved over time. What started off with just one option for people to 'request for help', turned into options to check relief camps, contribute, check flooded streets and enrol as volunteer.

Aishwarya Kumar | News18.com@aishwaryak03

Updated:August 26, 2018, 9:14 AM IST
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Kerala Floods: The War Room Where Netas, Babus Marshalled e-Soldiers
NDRF personnel hold rescue and evacuation drive at flood-affected regions in Chengannur taluk of Alappuzha (File photo: NDRF Twitter/PTI)
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Thiruvananthapuram: On any other day, a wood-panelled room in the Secretariat building would be the revenue secretary’s office. However, as rains lashed Kerala and rivers went into a spate, the room in the colonial-era building had become the epicentre of the state government’s efforts into fighting the flood and saving its residents.

State revenue and disaster management secretary PH Kurian was at the helm of operations at the war room, which during the peak of the disaster, accommodated about 20-30 people together, round the clock. “I was here throughout for seven days,” Kurian said.

Speaking to News18, Kurian described how around August 10, the state government decided to call for central forces because the authorities knew that their efforts alone were not sufficient to save the people from raging floodwaters.

“We did what we could do best. The rescue operations had started around 9th but the next day we called for central forces. Then a few days later, we got the fishermen on board,” he added.

Kurian is backed by a team of IAS officers, tech experts and weather experts in his endeavour. Additionally, they also manage the keralarescue.in, a website which, as one of his team members described, was “crowd sourced”.

Kurian’s team of officers sat in his office looking at all the posts for help that were coming on the official Facebook page and mapped these locations. Latitude and longitude coordinates were picked up from Google Earth and handed over to the people looking for keralarescue.in and were timely updated.

The website, over time, has evolved. What started off with just one option for people to “request for help” has now options to check relief camps, contribute, check flooded streets, enrol as volunteer, etc.

Technology was used to the best of the team’s capability during the peak of the disaster. Kurian remembered how he was getting 1 lakh messages a day on WhatsApp. The revenue secretary rallied his colleagues, including IFS officers, into passing on every information that they were getting.

There were six official WhatsApp groups that had been created years ago, but became more active during the floods, with various sections, including IPS officers, media-persons and others. All the members would share information that they were getting and pass in on their respective groups.

With a lot of parallel information coming in from across the state, Kurian had an army designated to collate this data. “A lot of mapping was done with calls that were coming on WhatsApp. Coordinates were figured out as people shared their location and the data was collected. As and when coordinates would be generated, we would send it across to the rescue team,” Kurian said.

The normal phone calls that were made were tracked and a location placed on them. This was further sent to the rescue teams. Now, with rescue operations called off in most parts of the state, Kurian and his army have shifted focus to rehabilitation and relief.

While IAS officers had already been posted at various levels to oversee operations, IFS officers too are now being put on the field. “People have lost their livelihood, not just their houses or belongings,” Kurian stated.

Despite water having receded in many areas, Kurian’s office continues to be on war footing. Discussions and directions happen in quick succession as Kurian and his team juggle between attending to phone calls and following up on documentation and necessary procedures to ensure those affected get relief. And the effort has not gone in vain.

At its peak, according to official data, there were more than 4,000 relief camps and around 14 lakh people. As of 3pm on Friday, there were around 2,300 camps and less than nine lakh people.

“We worked in tandem with the police department, fire force and other forces who had come for help. Our fishermen did an exemplary job and they single-handedly saved 50-60% of the total rescued since their mobility was much faster. And the locals. Those affected came out to help others in distress. It was sheer team work,” he further said.
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