In August 2018, Kerala faced one of the worst floods in the past century with a 116% increase over normal monsoon rainfall which caused widespread loss of life and property.
During this time, I was the webmaster of IEEE LINK which was the body governing the Student IEEE activities in Kerala. At the start of the unprecedented rains, the IEEE Student community came together with the idea of building a website that might affect those who were affected. To begin such an initiative, I contacted Mr Muraleedharan who was the head of Kerala e-Governance Mission to get more clarity on the requirements which such a website should be able to satisfy. According to his suggestions, the initial website was expected to have very few features:
1. A simple data collection of the needs of various people and the various camps that were present
2. Contact details of a few Points of Contact for the needs of each district.
3. A volunteer who is willing to help out should be able to get details about the needs of the various places nearby
4. If the needs of various places were fulfilled by some volunteers, the need had to be struck off to prevent duplication.
To coordinate the development of the website, a WhatsApp group was formed comprising of various web developers from all around Kerala. There came the first problem – The different web developers knew different backend libraries. After some time of deliberation, we quickly chose Django to be the backend of the website.
I had purchased the domain keralarescue.in and the initial website was launched within 14 hours after the formation of the group which in itself is a great achievement. After a few days of deployment, the weather condition of the state intensified and the situation became looking much worse. It was at this time, that the government declared Keralarescue.in as the official website for online rescue operations in the state. The publicity of the website came from various Social media handles including the Chief Ministers Office, Kerala Police and many celebrities and was also continuously published in the TV channels. As a normal Btech student, it gave me immense happiness in seeing the quick escalation of a simple website.
Due to the sudden publicity by all the media, the traffic started to increase exponentially. The website which was first deployed in a simple free server of Heroku had to be shifted to another server which could handle the huge traffic that was coming in. Thus, the website was slowly transferred to AWS in the middle of the night so as not to put any downtime on the website. By this time, the support poured in from many working professionals – to add various features to the existing portal. There were a team of Students in IIT Hyderabad and IIT Bombay who analyzed the data present in keralarescue.in using a crawler and set up call centres and to call the various people who needed help and assigned a priority to the affected people. Many people working in the background using this data. We had the opportunity to finally meet all the contributors of the project when the Kerala IT Mission held a meeting to officially thank all of us for our contributions.
In the end, the website had over 17 million hits, 55,000 registered volunteers, 50,000 help requests and over 1900 in the official slack group. Another important thing to note is that even in spite of the sudden increase in web traffic, the website had zero downtime.
The image gives a glimpse of how the Keralarescue portal looked like.
This project, gave me a lot of experience in working as a team since I was working with a team who were from different parts of Kerala and people whom I have never seen in my life. We worked together and built a good web portal in a very tight time constraint. Also, the fact that the student community quickly came up with a solution to tackle the problem is a good thing. Overall this gave me immense satisfaction that I had done my part in helping the people who have suffered due to the devastating floods.