Whilst the last few days of flooding in the city of Colombo brought in a huge amount of public empathy and relief measures where the ordinary citizen plus the corporate sector threw the full might of their resources to bring relief to the destitute, some startup companies were experimenting with unique ways to support relief measures. Amongst them was the mobile app based taxi hailing service, PickMe.
PickMe initially teamed up with a television station to pick up dry rations from those who wanted to contribute. This was done through a special icon on their mobile app, which customers could click on, and the company would send a taxi for the pick up. The collections were brought to a pick up point anddelivered to the TV station,to be distributed among the needy.
But what was unique was PickMe’s SOS app, which the company came up with, to identify and rescue flood victims who were marooned. All those who had the PickMe app on their phone could click on it and PickMe could identify the exact location of the stranded people, using GPS tracking.
‘We had a large number of people who responded and some of this information we passed onto to those doing rescue operations. Whilst we too operated some boats to rescue people.’ said Zulfer Jiffry, CEO of PickMe.
Whilst the PickMe app was useful in supporting surface rescue, their collaboration with the Defense Ministry to airlift marooned flood victims was even more crucial. PickMe had a specially appointed team to pass on distress signals no sooner they were received to the Defence Ministry helicopter rescue crew who acted on them deploying their craft to the locations provided by the company. The helicopter crew didn’t delay in flying to the locations beeped in by PickMe and through their timely partnership, over 200 families including children, pregnant mothers and the elderly who were abandoned in unreachable areas were brought to safety.
‘Even though GPS tracking has been around for a long time, this is probably the first time it has been used as an interface between the those who were in distress and teams involved in rescue missions. There is a lot that needs to be done in creating awareness and during these floods we have learnt what we can do over and beyond just being a taxi service.’ says the CEO of PickMe.
While PickMe itself did not have sufficient time to make public announcements regarding the SOS feature on their app, the users of this application had figured it out and had been clicking on the SOS feature. Company officials say this is a fine example of the user friendliness of the application which can level out the playing field and information technology becoming a key part of disaster management.