Mobile phones save lives in Sri Lanks
Thirty six stranded British tourists were rescued in Sri Lanka thanks
to a mobile phone with one of them and technology that could
pin-point the user, an official involved in the rescue told AFP
The Britons were picked up from the southern beach resort of
Hikkaduwa where they were stranded after the tsunami lashed
three-quarters of the island's coastline, killing nearly 13,000
people. A private initiative involving all phone companies here began
monitoring mobile phones with international roaming and traced the
call patterns to figure out the location of the phone users.
"There were 10,252 international roaming phones working on Sri Lankan
networks at the time of the
tragedy," Chris Dharmakirti, who is heading the Tidal Wave Rescue
Centre said. "We sent everyone an sms and got responses from 2,321.
He said 5,983 roaming phones had gone dead since the disaster while
4,269 phones had been used to make at least one call after the
"Whenever anyone used the phone, we could track where the person was
and restrict our search to affected areas of the country."
"If a phone is dead it could be that the unit is lost or the person
is affected by the tragedy," Dharmakirti said. "But, we are keeping a
track on these numbers."
He said they sent instructions to the phone users to call a toll-free
local number that will be answered by a call centre manned by some
"Last night we had a response from a British tourist and based on
tracking his call we were able to locate a total of 36 stranded
Britons," Dharmakirti said. "Four of them were critically wounded,
but we managed to get to them to safety."
Another 35 Hong Kong-based employees of Morgan Stanley, leading
investment bankers, who were in southern Sri Lanka were tracked down
because of their international roaming phones that continued to be
"Some people who called us did not know where they were. All they
could say was they were on high ground. But we were able to pin-point
from where the call was coming and could rush help," he said.
The mobile phone networks too were knocked out after Sunday's
tragedy, but 90 percent of the services were restored quickly by
arranging mobile generators to power base stations.
"This is the first time in Sri Lanka that we have used high tech call
tracking for a rescue mission. It has been highly successful and the
teenagers who manned the call centre were themselves keen to go out
and help victims," he said.
"What we are doing is to use this to help any survivor who is
marooned and needs help."
He said people abroad could call two numbers to get information about
survivors who made contact with the rescue centre. When dialling from
abroad, the number is +94-11-2395230 or 94-77-3166999.
>From within the country, the number to dial is 011-2395227 or from
>any mobile phone in the country the toll free number to call is 112.