With over 1.3 billion users connected to its network on a monthly basis, Facebook is able to leverage its massive scale for good. It’s put those capabilities to use in the past to encourage users to vote or register to be an organ donor, but today the company announced something applicable to an even broader audience: Safety Check, a new feature that lets you tell your family and friends that you’re safe in the wake of a natural disaster or other crisis.
During these critical times, people to turn Facebook’s service to check on loved ones and get updates, Facebook explains in an announcement of the new feature out this morning,
“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,” says Facebook. “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.”
During the major disaster, Safety Check will let your family and friends know you’re safe as well as let you mark your friends as safe. This information will be shared with other friends and family checking on their loved ones who are in the affected area. And only your Facebook friends will see your current “safety status” and the comments you share.
Facebook says the idea for Safety Check grew out of its experiences designing a product to help its users in Japan following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which affected 12.5 million people nationwide and led to over 400,000 evacuations. At that time, Facebook engineers in Japan rolled out the “Disaster Message Board” to make it easier for those involved in the situation to communicate with other friends and family. The engineers then launched a test of the tool the next year and “the response was overwhelming,” says Facebook.
That Disaster Message Board has now evolved into what’s now being called Safety Check, and it will soon be available to users worldwide on the desktop, iOS, Android and even feature phones.
The way the product works is that it alerts users in the affected area, asking them if they are safe via a notification. (Facebook will determine your location by what’s listed in your profile, or if you’ve opted into its “Nearby Friends” product, it will look at your last location. It will also look at the city where you are using the Internet.) If for some reason, it gets this information wrong, you can tell Facebook you’re outside the affected area.
Then, marking that you’re safe is as simple as tapping the the green button which says “I’m Safe” and a notification and News Feed story will be posted to your profile. Friends can also mark you as safe on your behalf, in case you’re with a group of people who are handling this function for others.
Those who receive the notifications about friends’ safety statuses will be able to tap onto the alerts and go into the Safety Check section to see a list of updates.