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Kerala Floods: Google, Facebook, Truecaller and Qkopy Pitch in With New Features

By: Vishal Mathur


Last Updated: August 21, 2018, 16:38 IST

Kerala Floods: Google, Facebook, Truecaller and Qkopy Pitch in With New Features

At a time when information may be scarce and coordinated relief steps have to be in place, tech companies such as Google, Amazon and Truecaller are lending a hand.

The state of Kerala is in the midst of dealing with the worst floods in memory, after relentless rains, and the toll on human life as well as property has been tremendous. At last count, 324 human lives had been lost in seven days. This just seems to be the newest chapter in what seems to be a constantly unfolding steam of natural disasters, both in India and around the world. According to data released by the World Economic Forum in January, more than 700,000 people died as a result of disasters between the years of 2005 and 2014, and 1.7 billion people were impacted globally. China suffered the most disasters (286), followed by the US (212), Philippines (181) and India (167). That unfortunate trend continues. As the human element grapples for survival, all help is welcome. While there is always the expectation that technology can aid in rescue and relief in such times, it is great to see technology companies coming together to help you extend your support to the people of Kerala.

An interactive map to help Kerala residents find helpline numbers, relief camps and other essentials

Whenever there is a natural disaster, there is also a tendency for chaos, incorrect information and sometimes even a complete information blackout. This has a detrimental effect on the rush for safety as well as the subsequent rescue and relief process. That is where technology can play a huge role, including the smartphone in our hand. Google has activated the Person Finder tool for Kerala, which can be very useful if you need to find a loved one who you are unable to connect with at this time or report any information you may have about a missing person. The Google Person Finder page is currently activated for the Kerala floods and the Japan rains. The page also suggests that Person Finder is tracking around 20,300 records, at the time of writing this--on the website http://google.org/personfinder/2018-kerala-flooding.

Google has also activated Kerala Flood Resources feature in Google Maps, with a consolidated pin-dropped list on Google Maps (available here https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?mid=19pdXYBAk8RyaMjazX7mjJIJ9EqAyoRs5&shorturl=1&ll=10.131576801923254%2C76.09216694682618&z=7). This list includes direct guidance to locations for shelter, rescue, food and water, helplines, relief material collection, clean drinking water, ambulance, transportation, clothing, essentials, pet shelter and more. Each category has been given a separate icon for easy identification and is updated statewide.

Kozhikhode-based Qkopy is a social networking app released earlier this summer. Qkopy is playing a very critical role in getting information out to people stranded in the still flooded parts of Kerala, or attempting to know about the current status of flooding, waterlogging and traffic movements, for instance. You need to simply save the Kozhikode City Traffic Police phone number (9497975656) in your phone, open the Qkopy app to allow it to access your phone's contacts and the Qkopy app will send you instant updates as shared by the police. These are one-way communication alerts for users, sharing information about the areas that are safe to visit and areas that should still be avoided, as well as traffic advisories. The updates are instant, and are even colour coded as green for everything is okay and red if it is a warning. The app is available for Android and iOS devices and is free to download and use.

Popular shopping website Amazon India has also launched the Amazon Cares: Contribute to Kerala Flood Relief website. Amazon India has partnered with three Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the Habitat for Humanity, World Vision India and Goonj to help people donate what is genuinely required for relief operations. Each NGO has listed essential products from Amazon's product inventory itself, and you simply need to add those to the cart as you would during normal shopping and buy. Amazon and the NGOs will coordinate to get the items delivered to Kerala centres at the earliest, and then in the hands of the rescue and relief teams who will get them to those impacted by the devastating floods. For instance, Habitat for Humanity wants you to contribute rain-coats, towels, spoons, plastic floor mats, emergency lanterns and Dettol disinfectants. World Vision India, for instance, wants you to contribute with eatables such as daal, tea, rechargeable torches and even plastic buckets. One of the biggest problems during disaster relief is that a lot of relief materials contributed from around the world sometimes includes items that aren't necessary, and it makes the process of relief distribution slow as the teams need to sift through what is needed and what can be sidelined for the time being.

Caller ID service for smartphones, called Truecaller, has also linked up with the Kerala CM's Disaster Relief Fund and lets you contribute money via the Truecaller Pay payments feature on the app itself, without having to rely on any third party services. You need to link the app in your phone with your bank account's UPI ID to make the payments.

Perhaps the most powerful, the most accessible tool and quickest tools in these times, are the social media platforms. Facebook posts, Twitter updates and WhatsApp groups can be used to get information across quickly and to a large demographic. From Kerala, we saw numerous tweets from people who were stuck in homes and schools, calling out for help, by sharing their location and coordinates. Rescue teams, who may be monitoring particular keywords and hashtags at that time, would be able to pin-point the location quickly. The same goes for Facebook too. With WhatsApp, it is more of the community, the people you may know or the people who may be in your locality, coming together to help, inform and support.