The Kerala flood relief operations in August 2018 had many lessons in project management, and sharing them was Cmdr. S. Sanooj, who headed the naval unit that carried out rescue operations.

It was a massive operation — 49 districts were affected. Almost 110 tonnes of relief material were distributed and 131 survivors were lifted. “Never in the history of the Navy have we carried out such a huge rescue effort,” Cmdr. Sanooj said. In fact, the operation was such a success that the Government of India is planning to consider the rescue effort as a model one.

Cmdr. Sanooj said there was perfect coordination among the various agencies involved — state agencies, the Army, Navy, Air Force, Border Security Force, Coast Guard, and many other organizations, along with the fishermen community and volunteers. Because of the coordination required, communication was critical and WhatsApp messages kept them all in the loop.

Each of the agencies played its part to perfection. For instance, the state IT department filtered and prioritized distress calls and messages. Prioritizing the lakhs of messages was a challenge. Sometimes, people did not know the latitude and longitude of the place they were in, and gave directions in terms of electric poles.

Secondly, leadership was exemplary. For those five critical days, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan visited the emergency operations center every morning to find out each unit’s plan of action. He would meet them again in the evening to assess the progress made.

“Every leader needs to adapt with time. We also need to empower our subordinates. We need to build in processes wherever it is possible, so that things happen in an automated way,” Cmdr. Sanooj said.

He was all praise for the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority for ensuring that all the central armed forces were available even before the flooding started. “I myself have experienced disaster management exercises, and I have seen that they are always reactive. But here, before the calamity happened, or took its biggest toll, the team was already available,” Cmdr. Sanooj said.