Facebook announced a new tool to check in on friends and loved ones during disasters or crises. Safety Check, which will debut worldwide on mobile and desktop devices, uses several indicators to locate you and to determine if you’re in an area affected by a disaster. It can scan the location of your Wi-Fi connection, the location of your nearest cell tower, and your GPS coordinates if you opted into Facebook's “Nearby friends” feature.
If you’re in an affected area, Facebook will send a push notification asking if you’re safe. Confirming will automatically post a Facebook update and send a notification to your friends. Clicking on the notification will bring you to the Safety Check tab on your device, where you can check on other friends and view their latest updates. Other friends can also be marked as safe.
The feature is a successor to a “disaster message board” feature, created by Facebook engineers during the 2011 earthquake in Japan, which affected 12.5 million people across the country.
“The response [to the disaster message board] was overwhelming,” Facebook said in a statement, “These events have taught us a lot about how people use Facebook during disasters and we were personally inspired to continue work on the Disaster Message Board to incorporate what we’ve learned.”
Delegating check-ins to largely popular apps such as Facebook could significantly relieve the usual stress that phone towers receive in times of crisis.
“It can take some pressure off of overloaded infrastructure with everyone trying to call affected areas after disasters hit,” says Richard Lawler, writing for Engadget, “and of course, save you from a post-tragedy chewing out for failure to let people know you’re fine.”
Mr. Lawler says that despite this, calling your loved ones might just be the simplest way to reach out.
Larger technology companies such as Google have also made strides recently to inform the public and facilitate communication in times of crisis. Google had published crisis maps to help those affected by Colorado floods. While not as extensive or feature-heavy, Facebook Safety Check will at the very least allow users to give their friends and family a quick ping, and with a leverage of 829 million active users, it may very well be the first port of call for many people.
Safety Check is now available on the latest version of the Facebook app for iOS, Android, basic feature phones, and desktop devices.