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In Kerala flood war room, clockwork efficiency is the order of the day

People being rescued during Kerala floods
People being rescued from flood-affected regions following heavy monsoon rainfall in Kochi, Kerala | PTI

Officials at the state’s disaster management cell tackle the crisis with a calmness and efficiency that belies the severity of the task.

Trivandrum: The phones ring incessantly but there is an air of calm at the Kerala government’s disaster management cell in Thiruvananthapuram, the war room to tackle the crisis arising out of the floods that have ravaged the state.

Over 30 to 40 officials, from the air force, the navy, the coast guard, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) apart from state government employees, man the telephones to respond to the calls of distress.

They reply to the calls in a set format, quietly and efficiently.

Also read: Navy rescue pilots in Kerala are flying aged helicopters that don’t meet today’s standards

“I am taking down your number and details. Tell me where you are,” says an officer while attending to a call. After noting down the details, the official asks, “I am going to share your details with the rescue personnel in that area right now and I assure you help is coming. Please be careful and ensure you are safe. We are here to help you. I hope you have water to drink and some food to eat?”

The response to the last question determines the next course of action. In case the answer is a ‘no’,  a slip of paper is quickly passed on to the official in charge of ensuring the delivery of food and water. In other cases, officers communicate directly with central agencies to ensure that the message is delivered to those on the ground.

The quiet, clockwork efficiency of the operation gives off the impression that the war room is just a typical government office, but for the television screens in the room and social media platforms that are being monitored as they play out the rescues and relief reaching people — the result of the co-ordination that begins here.

Social media the new aid

The disaster management cell functions out of the office of the additional chief secretary (revenue) P.H. Kurien, who himself has to contend with various exigencies — from dealing with the Prime Minister’s visit to the distress calls.

Kurien told ThePrint that the control room has representatives from all the defence forces and departments dealing with rescue and relief operations.

Also read: Here’s how you can help the flood-hit people in Kerala

“As soon as the request is made, the officers communicate directly with the central agencies and the message is conveyed on the ground. That is the job of a war room,” he said.

None of the officials here have their mobile phones switched off. With their numbers widely circulated, those not able to reach the phone lines, directly contact the mobile phone numbers.

Those in the war room also began monitoring social media after realising that many of the distressed began dropping their location pins with every message so that the rescue personnel could reach them. Even videos were uploaded so that the enormity of the rescue operation was monitored and, subsequently, facilitated.

Also read: Kerala has raised the bar, shamed the Indian conscience on disaster relief

Several Malayalam television media channels too have pitched in, setting up their own call centres, verifying the messages and then passing it onto the officials at the management cell.