Kerala Floods: Tech companies and geeks pitch in to help organise relief efforts

Technology is a big factor in spreading awareness in calamitous situations, such as the one in Kerala.

The southern state of Kerela is currently suffering from what is being described as the worst floods in 100 years. Social media is inundated with images of the plight of God's own country. Hundreds have died, tens of thousands have been displaced and the damage to property and infrastructure is immeasurable.

An aerial view shows partially submerged houses at a flooded area in Kerala. Reuters

An aerial view shows partially submerged houses at a flooded area in Kerala. Reuters

If you have relatives, family or friends in Kerela, you would know how hard it is to tabs on them. Telephone lines, internet, and electricity have been nearly wiped out in the state. However, Kerala wasn't abandoned to its fate. People and organisations rose up to lend a hand, helping to save the lives of thousands and bringing some measure of sanity to the calamity-stricken state.

(Also read: Airtel, Vodafone, Jio, Idea, BSNL, offer free calling, Data for seven days in flood-hit Kerala)

KeralaRescue

Volunteers from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and Kerela's IT Cell, who, as per a report by Livemint, together created a website called ‘keralarescue.in’. The purpose of this website is to coordinate the relief effort and get messages to offline rescue operations in the state.

As livemint notes in its report, the website was started without any funding and relied on Slack for handling the messages. The site became so popular that the free version of Slack, being used by the Kerala rescue team, couldn't handle the load. So they contacted Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield who actually responded within 1 minute to give them a free upgrade. The effort was further boosted by the involvement of several tech giants such as Microsoft, Google, Uber and more, as per the report by Livemint.

As per the report, 10 million requests were being generated on the Slack channel and nearly 1,585 coders were handling it. That's not all. The CMDRF (Chief Minister's Distress Relief Fund) website kept on crashing due to the overwhelming amount of requests, so top IT companies such as Oracle, UST Global and others worked with C-DIT (the organisation who ran the CMDRF website) to resolve the issue. By the evening of 19 August, a mirror site had been set up for handling the load. A WhatsApp group with links to Relief Fund websites was also created.

Google

Search giant Google's never-ending quest to more effectively track its users is a creepy breach of privacy that would normally not be tolerated. In flood-hit Kerala, however, that data can prove very useful.

Google Maps, for example, has made it extremely easy to share your location with anyone else. You can use your Android smartphones or tablets to generate and share a plus code of your exact location, for example.

What is a plus code? 

A plus code address looks like a regular address, but with a shortcode where the street name and number would be. These addresses exist for any location, even for places where there are no roads. Essentially, they are Google Maps-readable coordinates.

How do you find a plus code?

Open the Google Maps app and touch and hold a place to drop a pin-> Tap the address or description at the bottom-> Scroll down to find the plus code -> Copy it and send it to concerned authorities to have them come to your position. People who have received this Plus code just need to enter it into the search bar on Google to locate the sender.

Google has also activated a 'Person Finder' tool for Kerala. You can visit the page here to track your family and friends who are trapped in Kerela. At the time of writing, Google is currently tracking the whereabouts of 22,100 people.

Google's SOS Alert page for the disaster is a great resource for acquiring information at a glance. Resources include phone numbers, latest tweets and news stories and more.

Twitter and Facebook

As always, Twitter is the go-to place for any information on #KeralaFloods, #KeralaFloods2018 and any number of other trending hashtags. The information is freely available and is being used to great effect to help coordinate relief efforts.

Facebook's crisis response page is getting updates by the minute and last week, it activated the “Safety Check”, allowing users to indicate that they were safe.

Qkopy

Kozhikode-based Qkopy (it's a district in Kerala) happens to be a social networking app that just released last month. It is currently playing a crucial role in getting flood relief information to people across its platform. Just save the Kozhikode City Traffic Police phone number, which is +94-97975656, in your phone and let the app access your contacts. The app will provide instant updates as shared by the police, with colour coded warnings to boot. The app is free to download on the Google Play Store.

Amazon

Amazon India has partnered with 3 NGOs and has revealed the 'Amazon Cares: Contribute to Kerala Flood Relief' website for making it easy to donate to the flood-relief efforts. A coordinated effort between the NGOs and Amazon is being conducted to deliver the required items to people in need. You can contribute items by visiting the website here.

Donate via apps

Paytm just announced that its Kerala Relief Fund has secured over Rs 10 crore from all over India. Various other apps and services have popped up these last few days. For more information on how you can help, follow these steps.

Caller ID app for smartphones, Truecaller has also made contributions via the Truecaller Pay payments feature on the app itself. Link your UPI account to Truecaller and contribute to help in the relief efforts.

Zomato is offering an option for donating food and ride-hailing app Ola is donating money for every non-corporate ride that's booked via the app.

Free voice and data

Telecom operators in the state are offering voice and data packages to people in the flood-affected state. Prepaid users on Idea, Vodafone, Airtel and others will be given credit towards talk time, which will have to be paid back later. BSNL is offering users 20 minutes of free talk time and free data for 7 days.

Even in the midst of a tragedy of this magnitude, it's uplifting to see so many people joining hands and pitching in to help save affected people.

The good news is that the met department has predicted that the rains are set to subside and so, relief operations can be accelerated.

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