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How Crucial is Technology in Natural Disaster Rescue Operations

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The recent floods in Kerala state, India, has devastated large number of human life and property. Let’s have a look into how technology can add as a force multiplier to the rescue operations during such natural disaster.

Kerala state in India has witnessed one of the worst floods in a century which has taken a huge toll on life and property of people. This is a constant reminder that man has no control over such natural disasters in India and around the world. As the survival of people becomes a major challenge, there is turmoil all around due to incorrect and fake information and even information blackout. This can prove deadly to rescue and relief operations and in such dangerous situations, technology can come in handy to help people.

Weather Prediction
One of the critical technology involved that helps in natural disasters like flooding due to rain fury is the effective usage of weather forecasting technology. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has currently predicted a decrease in rainfall in Kerala, and some areas are already showing receding water levels. Although the regular weather forecasts are not taken seriously by us, it should be noted that IMD weather predictions are based on several sophisticated instruments and technology. In simple words, weather is forecasted by meteorologists who collect all the data they possibly can with respect to the current state of atmosphere like humidity, temperature and wind. To collect the data on current atmospheric conditions and predict future weather conditions, meteorologists use wide range of sophisticated instruments from satellites to supercomputers. Recently, the Government of India added two supercomputers by the name ‘Pratyush’ to predict weather accurately.

IMD uses the INSAT-3D satellite, which is developed by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). This satellite helps in search and rescue by providing ‘storm warning system’. The data provided by the INSAT-3D satellite helps to forecast the weather in two ways wherein expert forecasters interpret the images and numerical weather-prediction models assimilate observations.

Social Media
Nowadays, social media platform is one of the most available tool for the common people. Popular social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, can be used to communicate faster across the world. From past few days in Kerala, large number of people have posted numerous Facebook messages, WhatsApp messages, and tweets, sharing their locations by specifying geo coordinates and asking help from rescue officials. Various government and private control centers who monitor for specific keywords and hashtags, convert the coordinates into specific locations and pass on the same to rescue officials. By this process, frantic people can share their locations with community, or other people they may know or the people who may be in that locality, who can come for help and rescue.

Facebook Safety Check
Facebook has activated its Safety Check feature on Kerala flood for helping people to convey to their family, friends and relatives that they are safe. Facebook has also created a crisis response page that displays the news and video content from public and media sources related to the recent flooding in Kerala.

Google Tools
Google has deployed the Person Finder tool for Kerala, which is very useful for people to track their family, relatives or friends, and also help people find each other in the aftermath of floods in Kerala and nearby regions. The website also displays the status which is currently tracking about 22100 records at the time of writing this article. One should also note that any data that is entered in this web site is available publicly and can be viewed by anyone. Google has clarified that it does not review or verify the accuracy of the data provided.

Google has also deployed the Kerala Flood Resources which provides updated live data of rescue and relief operations with a consolidated pin-dropped list on Google Maps.

This useful and updated list includes specific guidance to locations for the following categories and each one is given a separate icon and colour for easy identification.

Kerala Flood Relief – Rescue Ops
Shelter, Rescue, Food and Water, Relief Material Collection, Helpline, Medicines and Essentials, Transportation, Jeep Rescue, Volunteers, Drinking Water, Power, Clothing, Ambulance, Doctor, Food and Essentials, Information, Rescue Help and Accessories, Essentials, Food Relief Districtwide

Water Authority
* KWA District Contacts

Doctors and Medical Professionals
* Medical Doctor
* Psychiatrist

Latest Shelters and Camps Inside Kochi

Out side City Shelters

Rescue Help, Volunteers and Party Workers
* Volunteers and Rescue Help

Qkopy App
Qkopy based in Kozikhode, Kerala, have developed a social networking app which is useful for getting information on people stranded in the flooded parts of Kerala, or attempting to know about the latest status of flooding, waterlogging and traffic movements. In order to get information, one has to save the Kozhikode City Traffic Police phone number which is +91 9497975656 in the phone book. Once the phone number is saved, Qkopy app will send instant alert updates which is shared by the police. One should note that this app is based on one-way communications alerting users about the areas that are safe to visit and the flood hit areas that should still be avoided. The app is available for Android and iOS devices and is free.

Challenges Ahead
Despite the technology, power failures during a natural disaster like floods can prove fatal when digital devices powered by battery also dries up. This means that one cannot be able to charge the feature or smartphones or smart devices and computers. In such situations, one cannot communicate using electronic devices. Then there is an additional challenge of loss of mobile phone connectivity due to the complete loss of power and battery backup of mobile network towers. This implies that in the case of floods, voice communication and Internet services are completely down. Then there is also the information blackout when the mobile network infrastructure itself is severely damaged during the natural disasters.

Fake News
At a time when Kerala is facing the worst floods, the government authorities are grappling with the task of fighting fake news, which is one of the major impediments in misleading the people. This comes at a time when the social media majors like WhatsApp are bringing in restrictions to fight the menace of fake news.

Few days back, fake news surrounding the fate of the Mullaperiyar Dam in Kerala surfaced on social media, creating panic among people. Responding to the same, the Chief Minister of Kerala had tweeted alerting people to only rely on official sources.

While we are all aware of struggling to deal with the menace of fake news, this is really the time when we should abstain from forwarding any news or information that comes to us from an unofficial source. This is a reminder that governments and people all over the world should be prepared to deal with the menace of fake news during tragic natural disasters.

Conclusion
Throughout the globe, in times of natural disasters — critical technology is used to help people and secure infrastructure. Even post-disaster, crucial technology can be used for clean-up and redevelopment. In times of any natural disaster, the key objective is to save more human lives and minimize the impact. It’s high time that the relevant government, private and public agencies should invest in cutting-edge technology and secure people and infrastructure.

While there is technology to aid in rescue and relief operations in times of natural disaster like floods — it’s great to see the combined human spirit coming together to help and extend support to the people of Kerala.

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