Sri Lanka: Different Codes for Different Folks

Posted on January 11, 2009  /  8 Comments


Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) today published a list of short codes to be used in case of emergencies and to access other e-gov services. They will work on any phone, mobile or fixed from any operator. Emergency calls are free. To access a service, normal call charges apply.

Public are advised to use these codes as per the specific nature of emergency. (note the word ‘Optimum’) For example, if you see the next door TV station is set fire by terrorists, call 118. It connects you to Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law and Order. If the same attack is done by some other party, better call 119, and contact Police. If they take time to come you may also want to call 110 to notify Fire Unit of Colombo Municipal Council. If you see a UFO – try 116. For Operation Commander it is 114; Colombo Municipal Council 115.

Can’t remember all? Here are the options. Fixed phone: Paste advertisement anywhere near. Mobile: Enter all numbers to your address book or carry a laminated copy of the ad in your pocket.

Redundancy is good, particularly when effectiveness is questionable. If one number does not work, try another. On the other hand having a long list of numbers is confusing. Why not have a single number – like 911 in USA – for all emergencies? (something easy to remember, even for a kid) Why complicate the process?

The answer perhaps lies in a uniquely Sri Lankan phenomenon: Government agencies do not talk to each other – may be they are from different planets. So settle for the next best. Everyone is on one’s own. That works better – at least till the public do not mind carrying laminated copies of the list of numbers.

Just one more question: Why charge for using ‘Child Help Line’? Aren’t the ‘marginalised children in need of care and protection’ (TRCSL wording) a group that deserves a toll free call?


  1. This is a good one. Always TRC is not practical
    Why not have a single number. 119 is OK

  2. of couse. one number is enough

  3. Worldwide, there are two numbers that are used for emergencies. 911 which originated in North America and 112 which originated in in Europe. It would be interesting to find out why Sri Lanka has not followed these international standards.

    Also, I wonder whether there is any precedent for a regulatory agency appropriating for itself a highly valuable short code?

  4. I got this link from Malinda. It shows Tigo short codes. Don’t expect anybody to remember.

    One difference is Tigo charges for 119 – the hot line to Police. (Can be a Typo.)

    Toll free charges are important not because of the amount – which is anyway not much now. It is important because many pre-paid users (particularly at BOP) frequently undergo no-credit periods. (till they find money for next reload) Toll free calling makes the phone useful even in this period.

  5. we can call to 911 via Sri lanka networks.

  6. The number to dial in an emergency when in Australia is ‘000’ (911 also work though). The nature os most emergencies however is that the people who get caught up in them go through very high levels of stress which translates into physiological and psychological changes that seriously limits the persons ability to think logically. [1]
    A matter like this should not be left in the hands of an incompetent and ill-informed bureaucracy. Deciding on one number to dial during any emergency is not just a matter of convenience – it is the only way it can and should be done and the only way it will actually work.

  7. Chanuka, I think every network charges for 119 . Only 118 is free .

  8. Thank you, Flyer. This is getting interesting.

    I have heard 118 is assigned as ‘Help Desk’ by AirTel. (Defence Ministry hotline for the rest) Dunno they mean help desk for security or technical probs. Will appreciate if someone clarifies.