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Kerala, India, Flooding: Radio Amateurs Assist Rescue Operations

08/22/2018

Radio amateurs in the flood-stricken Indian state of Kerala are helping with rescue operations there, in part by tracing stranded people through their last mobile phone locations and sharing information with officials. Most telecommunication services in Kerala remain down. Accounts vary, but some 120 hams — and perhaps as many as 300 — have been working 24/7 to support official rescue operations.

“Kerala has been hit by the worst flooding and landslides in 100 years, with six districts and neighboring areas submerged in 7 to 15 feet of water that has spilled over from nearby rivers,” Suwil Wilson, VU2IT, told ARRL. “One million people are in relief camps, and more than 300 people are dead. Power and mobile communication in the affected areas are cut off.”

Wilson said he coordinated the statewide response, which has been managed by individuals without the involvement of any ham radio organization in India.

“Hams gathered at the Thiruvananthapuram District Administration office, where the District Emergency Operations Centre is functioning, and set up an Amateur Radio emergency communication control center to work with the District Disaster Management Authority to support rescue and relief operations.” Wilson said, adding that hams from all over Kerala have been relaying reports of people stranded or in need of medical aid. “So far hams have reported the location and other details of more than 15,000 victims stranded on roofs of houses and other buildings as floodwaters rose to the second floor of buildings.”

“This model worked flawlessly for 6 days till the end of search and rescue operations,” Wilson said. “[T]he extremely surprising gathering of individual hams gathered together in all districts and started functioning, which later become a strong network. At the control centre, we received messages relayed from other parts of the state and logged all communications and took further actions that resulted in the rescue of over 1,800 people. In many cases the first information was relayed by hams, before any other agency did.”

Wilson said the operation continues in many parts of Kerala to coordinate the distribution of relief material in relief camps.

Ram Mohan Suri, VU2MY, director of the Hyderabad-based National Institute of Amateur Radio (NIAR), said hams in Kerala “have worked against all odds to rescue people.” Suri said 1,650 people were rescued on the basis of ham radio reports from the Thiruvananthapuram centre between August 16 and August 19.



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