How Social Media Came To The Rescue After Kerala’s Floods

Kamala Thiagarajan at NPR: Devastating rainfall followed by treacherous landslides have killed 210 people since August 8 and displaced over a million in the southern Indian state of Kerala. India’s National Disaster Relief Force launched its biggest ever rescue operation in the state, evacuating over 10,000 people. The Indian army and the navy were deployed as well.

But they had some unexpected assistance.

Thousands of Indian citizens used mobile phone technology and social media platforms to mobilize relief efforts….

In many other cases, it was ordinary folk who harnessed social media and their own resources to play a role in relief and rescue efforts.

As the scope of the disaster became clear, the state government of Kerala reached out to software engineers from around the world. They joined hands with the state-government-run Information Technology Cell, coming together on Slack, a communications platform, to create the website

The website allowed volunteers who were helping with disaster relief in Kerala’s many flood-affected districts to share the needs of stranded people so that authorities could act.

Johann Binny Kuruvilla, a travel blogger, was one of many volunteers. He put in 14-hour shifts at the District Emergency Operations Center in Ernakulam, Kochi.

The first thing he did, he says, was to harness the power of Whatsapp, a critical platform for dispensing information in India. He joined five key Whatsapp groups with hundreds of members who were coordinating rescue and relief efforts. He sent them his number and mentioned that he would be in a position to communicate with a network of police, army and navy personnel. Soon he was receiving an average of 300 distress calls a day from people marooned at home and faced with medical emergencies.

No one trained volunteers like Kuruvilla. “We improvised and devised our own systems to store data,” he says. He documented the information he received on Excel spreadsheets before passing them on to authorities.

He was also the contact point for INSPIRE, a fraternity of mechanical engineering students at a government-run engineering college at Barton Hill in Kerala. The students told him they had made nearly 300 power banks for charging phones, using four 1.5 volt batteries and cables, and, he says, “asked us if we could help them airdrop it to those stranded in flood-affected areas.” A power bank could boost a mobile phone’s charge by 20 percent in minutes, which could be critical for people without access to electricity. Authorities agreed to distribute the power banks, wrapping them in bubble wrap and airdropping them to areas where people were marooned.

Some people took to social media to create awareness of the aftereffects of the flooding.

Anand Appukuttan, 38, is a communications designer. Working as a consultant he currently lives in Chennai, 500 miles by road from Kerala, and designs infographics, mobile apps and software for tech companies. Appukuttan was born and brought up in Kottayam, a city in South West Kerala. When he heard of the devastation caused by the floods, he longed to help. A group of experts on disaster management reached out to him over Facebook on August 18, asking if he would share his time and expertise in creating flyers for awareness; he immediately agreed….(More)”.