AN IMPULSIVE decision by a recent college graduate to collect and disburse data of people battling the rain in Chennai and in need of aid resulted in a simple website — chennairains.org. The website compiles data from social media and messenger apps and feeds it into a spreadsheet, which is now public. Bringing together people who need help and those who are offering it, the website may soon surpass official channels of information.
The website offers information on shelter, food and important contact details of authorities, all categorised by localities. Those in areas largely unaffected by the deluge have offered their homes, hotels and rooms for shelter, while others advertise the number of people they can feed. One only has to tweet at certain handles for help or even call the numbers put online.
And it all began as a conversation between a handful of people on social media who had never met or had spoken rarely on the phone and had interacted primarily on Twitter or Facebook. Karthik Balakrishnan, who registered the domain chennairains.org, said, “It started with several dedicated people on Twitter who began putting out information for those in need, which was quickly retweeted and spread on social media. I just thought of putting it all together.”
A simple Google spreadsheet followed where all information from social media was fed and the data was put on the website. “We began with shelter on Tuesday when the rainfall was incessant, and graduated to food and rescue on Wednesday. So far at least 800 people have looked for shelter, 600 for food and at least 2,000 are in need of rescue,” said Balakrishnan.
According to Balakrishnan, the website quickly gained momentum, and soon volunteers even began eyeballing calls for help. “One of us is in touch with authorities in Chennai. So we went through all the entries and called those who asked for help to determine people in need of urgent help. This was then relayed to the authorities,” he said.
The informal group has now even mapped pinpoint locations of those stranded in the deluge, particularly after complaints from residents that the Chennai Corporation helplines had collapsed Wednesday evening. “Addresses were verified and coordinates plotted on Google Maps. This we have shared with the authorities only and not made public. It is a quick way for the authorities to identify how many people are trapped and where,” Balakrishnan said.