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Tech companies building new products and services in response to disaster is nothing new. Google, Mxit and Microsoft and now Facebook have all launched products aimed specifically at aiding communication in disaster zones.
The social network’s product, called Safety Check is designed to provide a simple and easy way to say you’re safe and check on others.
According to Facebook, when disaster hits, Safety Check will help you:
- Let friends and family know you’re safe
- Check on others in the affected area
- Mark your friends as safe
Only your friends will see your safety status and the comments you share.
Facebook says that the tool was inspired by the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami, which caused billions of dollars worth of damage, killed thousands and saw nearly 3 000 people go missing.
“During that crisis we saw how people used technology and social media to stay connected with those they cared about,” says Facebook.
“Our engineers in Japan took the first step toward creating a product to improve the experience of reconnecting after a disaster,” it adds. “They built the Disaster Message Board to make it easier to communicate with others. They launched a test of the tool a year later and the response was overwhelming”.
Subsequent disasters prompted it to create something simple and easy to use, which allows people to connect with their network of friends and family.
Here’s how it works:
When the tool is activated after a natural disaster and if you’re in the affected area, you’ll receive a Facebook notification asking if you’re safe.
Facebook will then determine your location by looking at the city you have listed in your profile, your last location if you’ve opted in to the Nearby Friends product, and the city where you are using the internet.
If the social network gets your location wrong, you can mark that you’re outside the affected area. If you’re safe, you can select “I’m Safe” and a notification and News Feed story will be generated with your update. Your friends can also mark you as safe.
If you have friends in the area of a natural disaster and the tool has been activated, you will receive a notification about those friends that have marked themselves as safe. Clicking on this notification will take you to the Safety Check bookmark that will show you a list of their updates.
Given the nearly billion daily users Facebook has, it makes sense for it to enter the space. It is however a pertinent reminder of just how much Facebook knows about your internet habits, although it seems pretty likely that’ll be the least of your worries in the midst of a catastrophe.