How NLM Technology and Alertness Saved a Life in South Asian Earthquake

A Pakistani man is alive today because of the quick thinking of NLM experts and their use of NLM’s PEOPLE LOCATOR® system, part of its Lost Person Finder Project.

The drama began with a fortuitous discovery during a routine data check. NLM software developer Tehseen Sabir spotted a “cry for help” among the missing person entries NLM had received from Google Person Finder following a devastating magnitude 7.5 earthquake that had struck South Asia.

A brief missing person record for Bashir showing his photo, age, gender, and identifying his condition as "unknown."

Asad Bashir’s entry in PERSON LOCATOR.

Sabir, who reads Urdu, translated the message from Asad Bashir, who had a status listed as “unknown.” His comment read, “I am stuck under the roof can someone please take me out,” in response to a family member who asked “Where are you?”

Sabir immediately shared the distress call with electronics engineer Michael Gill of the Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications, who asked for more details about the location.

Racing against the clock as a life was on the line, Gill thought of a variety of ways to locate the man. He was able to quickly reach out to a contact at the American Medical Association, who forwarded the information about the trapped man to the Pakistani Disaster Management Agency.

The agency immediately sent a rescue team to the location. About six hours later NLM personnel were able to determine that Bashir was found, but they could not learn any additional details about the rescue or his condition.

Screenshot from PEOPLE LOCATOR showing initial search results with photos and brief identifying information.

PEOPLE LOCATOR listed hundreds of missing and found people during the South Asia earthquake.

More than 400 people were killed in the earthquake and 2,500 were injured.

PEOPLE LOCATOR performed exactly as intended. “In a disaster, this system can help provide reassurance, facilitate family reunification, enhance coordination with disaster-responding NGOs [non-governmental organizations], and alleviate some of the workload on public-health personnel and other responders who interact with the community,” says Gill.

PEOPLE LOCATOR and Google Person Finder share information so that missing persons are listed in both places, ensuring that users of either system have access to as much relevant information as possible. Together the systems serve as an online “lost and found” of people, with entries that can include name, gender, age, health condition, and photo.

The ReUnite™ app, also part of the Lost Person Finder Project, allows users to feed information to or search within PEOPLE LOCATOR via their smartphones or other mobile devices. ReUnite is free for iOS and Android devices.

By Adam Shapiro