Facebook Creates 'Safety Check' Tool for Natural Disaster Survivors

The service lets users announce that they're safe, but not if they're actually in trouble.

Safety Check's interface. (Facebook)

Safety Check’s interface. (Facebook)

Nowadays, when natural disasters strike, Facebook users often take to the social network to alert their loved ones that they’re okay.

To facilitate this type of communication, Facebook has created Safety Check, a tool that lets users alert their friends and family of their status in the wake of earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural emergencies. The company announced the new service in a blog post yesterday.

Facebook explained, in the post, how Safety Check was inspired by the 2011 earthquake in Japan.

The 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan was devastating. According to the Japanese Red Cross, more than 12.5 million people were affected nationwide, and more than 400,000 people were evacuated. During that crisis we saw how people used technology and social media to stay connected with those they cared about.

Following the earthquake, Facebook’s engineers in Japan created the Disaster Message Board “to improve the experience of reconnecting after a disaster,” the post says. A test launch of the tool yielded “overwhelming” results, and the Disaster Message Board was eventually developed into Safety Check.

The post went on to outline how Safety Check works.

When a natural disaster occurs, Facebook will determine your location by looking at the city listed in your profile, the city where you’re using the Internet, and — for users of the Nearby Friends service — your last location. If they determine you’re near the natural disaster, they’ll send you a notification asking if you’re safe.

Once you mark that you’re safe, Facebook will share the story for your friends and family to see. On the flip side, if your friends and family are the ones located near a natural disaster, you’ll receive notifications when those people declare themselves safe.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, there’s one glaring problem with Safety Check. Sure, it’s great for people who’ve survived disasters, but what about people who actually need help?

“Safety Check was designed for people to let others know they are safe after a major natural disaster,” a Facebook spokesperson told the WSJ. “We recognize it will not be helpful to everyone in every situation, and hope that if people are not safe, they contact local emergency services as soon as possible.”

Facebook says Safety Check “will be available globally on Android, iOS, feature phones and desktop.”

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[h/t The Wall Street Journal] Facebook Creates 'Safety Check' Tool for Natural Disaster Survivors