Global EditionASIA 中文双语Français
Home / China / Henan floods

College student uses spreadsheet to save lives

By CAO CHEN | | Updated: 2021-07-23 16:33
Share - WeChat
A village is inundated by flooding in Huixian county, Xinxiang city, Central China's Henan province. [Photo provided to]

When an unprecedented rainstorm swamped Zhengzhou, Henan province, in the afternoon of July 20, timely rescue of those trapped in dire situations was imperative yet hard to carry out considering the immense scale of the situation. 

A few hours later, an online real-time excel spreadsheet allowing people trapped in the rain and local rescuers to reach each other was created.

In the next 24 hours, this spreadsheet became "a bridge over troubled waters".

The spreadsheet was established at 8:57 pm on July 20 at the Tencent Docs, a free online document platform that allows multi-person collaboration. In the next 24 hours, it was updated more than 270 times. As of 7 pm, July 22, the document had been viewed 6.5 million times.

Information was categorized and prioritized based on urgency level.

Pregnant women about to deliver, infants and the elderly trapped, for example, were listed as very urgent for rescue. Warnings of places of danger, such as those with electricity leak, were posted. Information featuring local volunteers ready to help, venues turned into temporary havens were also listed, including specific contact numbers and locations.

Hundreds got rescued thanks to the spreadsheet, which has become a joy for the rest of the country closely watching the disaster relief work in Henan province. 

Li Rui, a graduate student in finance at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics who initiated the life-saving project, has since been hailed as an unsung hero. 

At 7:56 pm, July 20, Li, a Henan native, posted "I want to help those in need" at Sina Weibo after seeing a large amount of online posts from her hometown seeking help, which soon attracted attention from many like-minded. 

The 22-year-old then posted a moment on her WeChat account, encouraging volunteers to join her to collect information of those seeking help, make a priority list, then contact those trapped in the rain and local rescuers, and to follow up situations.

The appeal was soon responded by 33 students from the university. One hour later, the spreadsheet was born. 

To enhance efficiency, the team was divided into two groups, one responsible for collecting and verifying online information, while the other was composed of volunteers from Henan province in charge of assisting in local rescue efforts. 

"At first, we collected real-time information on Weibo on our own, leading to repetitive information. The method was later replaced by Python to maximize efficiency," Li said. "I also reminded volunteers to type in precise, concise information on the document, to make it easy to understand," she added.

The document is now managed by a professional group from Tencent, as the amount of data is accumulating.

The team has also cooperated with local volunteer and rescuing organizations as well as media groups, creating six group chats with over 200 members each on WeChat, including Li's schoolmates, friends and strangers across the nation, for communication. 

Information circulation is crucial in the context of emergencies, a lesson the team from Tencent Docs said learned from curbing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, when neighborhood committees, schools, and companies used online files for information registration.

According to the Tencent's team, 33 doc templates for the disaster have been launched, provided for governments, rescue agencies, and social organizations.

The technical team also on July 20 doubled the number of people able to edit a shared document at the same time, which reportedly facilitated work efficiency and strengthened hope.

"I felt miserable when I noticed a message online from a woman about to give birth. She must be desperately worrying that her child might not make it because of the deadly rain," recalled Jing Yujie, one of the volunteers from the university, who put the information into the document.

Thanks to the document, the woman and her child were rescued.

"My hometown suffered floods in 2018. I have always been grateful to the rescuers and people who donated food and clothing. I hope everyone can do their best to help each other, facing natural disasters," Jing said.

Li recalled that at 10:38 pm on July 20 she sent the first message to a person seeking help. 

"It was not until 1:08 the next morning that I finally got a reply saying he had been rescued and expressed gratitude to us," she said. "Despite staying up late these days, the replies are the best gift for us. It also inspires me to choose a career contributing to the overall well-being of society," Li said.

Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349