When a major disaster strikes, whether natural or man-made, many folk with loved ones in the affected area more often than not turn to social media to check that they’re OK.
With that in mind, Facebook on Wednesday rolled out Safety Check, a new tool that lets users in a disaster area quickly and easily send out notifications to let family and friends know they’re safe.
So how does it work?
If a natural disaster strikes in your area, you’ll receive a notification from Facebook asking if you’re alright. Safety Check determines your location by looking at the place you’ve listed in your profile, your last location if you’ve opted in to Nearby Friends, or the area where you’re using the Internet.
If you’re safe, you simply hit the “I’m safe” button at which point a notification and News Feed story is fired off to your friends.
Using it the other way, if you have friends in a disaster zone and have Safety Check activated, you’ll receive their notification once they send it out. Click on the notification and you’ll be taken to a Safety Check bookmark where you’ll find any future updates from the same person.
The idea for Safety Check grew out of the Disaster Message Board created by Facebook engineers in Japan following the devastating quake and tsunami that hit the north-east of the country in 2011.
The disaster, which the Red Cross said affected an estimated 12.5 million people, provided developers and engineers with useful data on how people, including relief organizations and first responders, use the Web and social media in times of crisis. This research went toward the creation of Safety Check, a tool Facebook hopes users will find indispensable should they be unfortunate enough to be caught up in a calamitous event.
Safety Check is available now to all of Facebook’s 1.3 billion and works on Android, iOS, feature phones, and desktop.
Many tech firms have been looking at ways to help the population in times of crisis. Google, for example, launched Public Alerts in 2012, while Twitter rolled out Twitter Alerts a year later. The pair teamed up earlier this year to allow Google to automatically include tweets from disaster-hit areas into its own emergency service.