Facebook's new feature connects users after disasters

Steven Loeb · October 16, 2014 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/39c1

Safety Check will automatically send out alerts and notifications when users say they are safe

During Hurricane Sandy back in 2012, social media took on a greater role than ever before during a natural disaster, with Twitter and Facebook taking different, yet equally important, roles. Whereas Twitter served as a place to get more real time information regarding both what was happening, and what to do in case of an emergency, Facebook became a key way for people to get in touch with loved ones, and let them know that they were alive and well.

The two companies seem to have embraced those different roles in the aftermath of the storm, with Twitter debuting its emergency alert system last year, and now Facebook announcing a new tool called Safety Check, to help people communicate with each other during disasters.

"In times of disaster or crisis, people turn to Facebook to check on loved ones and get updates. It is in these moments that communication is most critical both for people in the affected areas and for their friends and families anxious for news," Facebook wrote.

"We want to provide a helpful tool that people can use when major disasters strike, so we’ve created Safety Check – a simple and easy way to say you’re safe and check on others."

The service works by automatically sending out a notification asking users in areas hit by a disaster if they are safe. The network uses three methods to locate potential victims: by using the city that the user has listed on their profile; their last location if they use the Nearby Friends feature; and the city where they are using the Internet.

Users can then either tell Facebook that they aren't in the area, or they can select the option that says "I'm Safe," which will then automatically generate a notification and News Feed story so that others know that the user is not in danger. The user's friends can also mark them as safe.

In addition, if any user has Facebook friends that may have that are in the area of a disaster, and they mark themselves as safe, then those users will receive a notification as well. Clicking on the notification will take them to the Safety Check bookmark, which will offer a list of their updates.

In addition to Hurricane Sandy, there was another natural disaster that Facebook has pointed to as an inspiration for this new feature: the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

That incident led them to build the Disaster Message Board, which was designed to make it easier to communicate with others after an earthquake, or some other natural disaster, hits. Disaster Message Board is what has now morphed into Safety Check.

"If you’re ever in a situation that would require you to use Safety Check, we hope it’s a tool that helps you stay connected to those you care about, and gives you the comfort of knowing your loved ones are safe<" the company wrote.

(Image source: newsroom.fb.com)

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