38 deaths in the aftermath of Super Cyclone Phailin is 38 deaths too many but, when all the other numbers are compared, can be seen as a success story in the annals of disaster management. Here is a tally. Wind speeds of up to 250 kilometers per hour on a storm-battered coastline that had lost much of its natural defences as a result of the ravages of earlier storms, from which the coastline had not yet recovered; the evacuation of nearly a million people from the affected areas in the 48 hours preceding the storm; the accurate meteorologic forecasts consistently made available by central and local government authorities of where and when the storm was most likely to strike; and the hundreds of temporary shelters set up in schools, temples and other safe buildings upto ten kilometers inland at the most vulnerable locations.
Compare the figures from 1999, when a similar superstorm killed more than 10,000 people in this same area. In 1967, the death toll was much worse, presumed to number over a hundred thousand, but no accurate counts were possible since the worst affected areas were cut off from relief services for weeks. The 1967 storm drove fishing boats several kilometers inland in places, destroying every settlement along the way, as well as most of the trees, killing all the birds in the area as well as the people.
Disaster relief has come a long way and government officials were able to be effective because they were relieved from the shackles of bureaucracy in a burst of enlightened administrative decision-making on the part of the state government of Odisha.
Global giant Google demonstrated the power of individual freedom and initiative as a team of volunteers spontaneously coalesced to form a disaster mitigation group at its offices around the world, and on the ground in the affected state, providing and updating crowd-sourced information on the location of local emergency services, storm shelters and a people-finder mobile network. The software is open source, meaning that it is available free to any other developer at a crisis point anywhere in the world. The website also created a map of volunteers offering shelter in the affected area.