Joo Ah-young, a 15-year-old with a mental handicap, was separated from her parents on an outing, and was missing for 15 days before the police decided to take another approach to the search. An SMS message with her photo was sent to people in Seoul and Gyeonggi province. Two days after the message was sent, a call came to the police from a security guard of a shopping mall in Dongdaemun, saying that he had found Ms. Joo.
Now that most people, regardless of age or social status, carry cellular phones, they are being used as a form of broadcasting messages that involve social welfare or national security.
Finding lost children is one example. SK Telecom’s mobile child-seeking service is operated jointly with the National Police Agency and the Korea Welfare Foundation.
Subscribers of SK Telecom, which is the largest mobile service provider in Korea, receive text messages that come with photos. Users can choose not to receive the messages. They can also make a free phone call to report any sighting.
Text messages are first sent to people who are around the area where the child was first reported missing, and then the radius is expanded if no one responds. Similar to child-finding services, there is also a mobile broadcasting service to find lost senile elderly citizens.
Mobile disaster broadcasting services are also available, through the National Emergency Management Agency’s agreements with SK Telecom, KTF and LG Telecom. Typhoon warnings, for instance, tell people of extreme weather conditions and relay messages if they have to evacuate their homes. Last summer, this network saved lives when torrential rains hit the mountainous regions of Gangwon province and caused landslides and floods. In the past, such announcements were made through television or radio, but many people do not keep those devices on all the time and the broadcasts do not cater to specific regions.
For Koreans traveling abroad, service operators offer special alerts if any emergencies are occurring in their area. Conducted in cooperation with the Foreign Ministry, people using global roaming service can receive a text message that explains the situation and gives the number of the Korean embassy in that country, or any other numbers that the person can call for help.
“If one is in a foreign country, some emergency may be happening and one may not know it, because of language problems. This service was used in the British bus terror incident and Southeast Asian tsunami,” said Kim Hye-jin, a SK Telecom spokeswoman.by Wohn Dong-hee