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On July 30, 2022 last monsoon, five fishermen who had set out for fishing in the fibre boat Rashida Mol from Ponnani got stranded mid-sea after their boat suffered an engine failure.

Death stared them in the face in the deep blue sea as they spent an entire night in the boat. As they were haplessly waiting for help, the VHF wireless set in the boat received a message – “Are You Safe?” It was from Shibu George of the District Emergency Operation Centre (DEOC) functioning from the Thrissur Collectorate. “It felt like a rebirth from near-certain death,” recalls Rasaq of Thanur, one of the fishermen who was in the boat.

The DEOC, which received information about the missing fishing boat from the Coastal Jagratha Samithi, managed to contact the fishermen through the wireless system that functions in radio frequency. Their GPS location was shared with the Coast Guard team from Kochi and they were rescued.

A radio wireless system under the Revenue department in Thrissur has been used to effectively coordinate relief and rescue work during floods and natural calamities. The system emerged as a force multiplier and a fallback for the disaster management force when power outages and remoteness render other communication systems defunct.

Interestingly, a radio wireless network system was installed in all districts in the State in 2009. But it was abandoned later due to poor range and lack of proper maintenance.

Mr. George, an employee of the DEOC, Thrissur, who is doing his research in disaster management, re-developed the system with necessary upgrading to effectively coordinate rescue operations during adverse weather conditions.

“During the 2019 floods, rescue operations were seriously hit due to the absence of network mechanisms. The radio wireless system will function even when the mobile network and even satellite phone links develop snag in adverse weather conditions,” said Mr. George.

The radio wireless system that functions from the DEOC at the Thrissur Collectorate connects seven taluks, vulnerable coastal villages, including Azhikode and Kadappuram, and hilly areas with the Collectorate, says M.C. Rejil, Deputy Collector, Disaster Management, Thrissur district.

“We learned lessons from the 2018 floods. Uninterrupted communication systems play a major role in disaster management. During the floods, the Peringalkuthu and Sholayar dams lost communication links and were totally disconnected. We now have placed a repeater to ensure connectivity to these areas too,” he notes.

The network of 35-odd amateur radio operators (HAM radio) too can be integrated into the system in case of emergency. Their service was used for official communication during the Thrissur Pooram when all the mobile services got jammed as lakhs of people gathered in the city.

If the emergency departments such as Revenue, Police and Forest are connected to the radio wireless system with a common frequency, the network will leverage the disaster management system to another level.

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