A local group, ‘NammHudugru’ (Our Boys), coordinated the rescue and relief efforts in Mudigere taluk using WhatsApp voice notes for quick communication.

How a Chikkamagaluru group helped rescue efforts using WhatsApp voice messages
news Floods Friday, August 16, 2019 - 15:24

With Mudigere in Karnataka’s Chikkamagaluru district facing heavy rains, a local group of youngsters - ‘NammHudugru' (Our Boys) – has taken it upon themselves to coordinate rescue and relief efforts in an interesting way. With cellular communication scant, the group is using WhatsApp voice notes to ensure that food and medical requirements in relief camps are communicated, and met.

“We were located at different locations like Mudigere, Chikkamagaluru, Kottigehara, Banakal, Bagaluru, Kalasa Hobli, and Alekhan Horatti, so we had real-time updates on the weather, flooding levels, medical and food requirements. But with only a few mobile towers functional, we decided to use the existing Whatsapp group of NammHudugru to send voice messages and quickly communicate,” Divin, one of the coordinators of the group, told TNM.

NammHudugru has been working in Mudigere and its surrounding areas since 2014 with 50-60 members, and takes up local civic issues including anti-dengue and malaria drives, encouraging cleanliness, and representing problems faced by residents at the local taluk panchayat. Most of the people on the group are aged between 25 and 35, and following the floods and landslides in the area last week, their WhatsApp group was used as a communication tool to help rescue efforts.

Team of 'NammHudugru'

To keep communication lines open, the group decided to re-fuel generators at mobile network towers and asked residents to keep power-banks and mobiles charged. “The communication was direct and to the point and since we were using WhatsApp voice notes we could leave only one-sided messages – like a walkie-talkie – and, there was no scope for simultaneous conversation. But it was worth the risk,” Adarsh, a group member, said.

Since August 9, the group began relaying information from landslide-affected areas in the district on WhatsApp. The information was mainly about the food supplies, and excavators needed, and refuelling of generators. The WhatsApp group thus became a ground for mediation for stranded residents and rescue groups operating in the district.

However, with over 220 participants in the WhatsApp group, the NammHudugru soon felt the need to appoint location-based coordinators for broadcasting messages to avoid confusion and duplicity, particularly while relaying requests for resource deployment. “For instance, a member leaving from Mudigere will leave an audio message about the supplies he is ferrying to an affected area, and the local coordinators receiving the message can convey if any additional requirement is there,” said Sampath, another group member.

This group also consisted of seniors or village elders and Taluk Panchayat members who were familiar with the topography of the area, and the requirements.

The group was also able to arrange 34 excavators since the route from Kottigehara to Horanadu was damaged and not motorable. The locally-run rescue and disaster management operation went on till Monday in the district.

The group was also able to coordinate with local officials to arrange tentative accommodation for the displaced at local hostels. “Since holidays were declared at schools, it enabled us to turn schools into accommodation spaces as well as centres for catering food for the distressed,” another group member said.

“Several villages had submerged during the flood during the first week of this month and no help was coming. We had to do something! So, we started the rescue work, provided supplies, and communicated with officials as well as local representatives. By the time the army stepped in, we were able to pinpoint to them those areas where we could not reach, including transporting those who were in need of medical attention or were elderly,” another member added.

At present, the group is entirely involved in ensuring that materials received from donors and government reach the right destination.

Around the region, Kottigehara was among the first places where landslides were reported. While the group’s efforts along with the fire and rescue team helped rescue 500 people there, even as six lost their lives due to the floods and landslides.

NammHudugru now wants to identify families whose houses have suffered damage due to floods and arrange for the necessary commodities. “The Karnataka government has already agreed to help people living in rental accommodation by providing them with Rs 5,000. What we hope to do is provide them with other logistical and other assistance since the terrain is not motorable,” Adarsh said.

Story by Story Infinity (Subs and Scribes Media Ventures LLP.)

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