Facebook makes it Easier to Help in Crisis, Disaster

John Lister's picture

Facebook is to make it easier for people to offer practical help after a crisis or natural disaster. It's an update to an existing tool for people to check up on loved ones.

When triggered, the "Safety Check" feature will check which Facebook users are in the relevant physical area, based on their IP address or the location information on their mobile device. They'll then be asked to choose options of "I'm safe" or "I'm not in the area." Their Facebook friends will then see them listed as safe.

The idea is that publicizing somebody as being "safe" in this way will mean fewer people phone or text them to ask if they are OK. That's an important measure as such calls can overwhelm phone networks in places that are in crisis - for example, during an earthquake.

Four Million Listed As Safe After Paris Attack

The most high profile use of Safety Check to date came in November 2015 when terrorists attacked Paris. Four million people - equivalent to a third of the city's population - marked themselves as "safe" using the tool, while 360 million people around the world were notified that a friend was safe.

Facebook says it decided to enhance the feature after seeing how many people want to offer help and support in a crisis. It's adding "Community Help," a feature that divided possible ways of helping into 10 categories, from transport to shelter to supplies for pets. (Source: fb.com)

People affected by a crisis can post a request in the relevant category and other users can check through the requests and, if they are able to help, get put in touch with the person making the request via Facebook Messenger. Once the help has been provided, the recipient can mark the request as completed, reducing the chances of one person having multiple offers of help while others have their calls go unheeded.

Smaller-Scale Events May Be Covered

For safety reasons, Facebook says it won't accept offers of help from accounts that have just been created or otherwise appear suspicious. (Source: techcrunch.com)

Facebook is also adding more automation to "Safety Check" itself, which currently can only be triggered manually by staff. To do this it will combine official reports of a crisis from dedicated global crisis reporting agencies, plus localized posts made by Facebook users. This may make it possible to use the feature for smaller scale crises.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you think the Community Help tool will be useful? Are there any potential drawbacks? Have you ever seen a friend listed as safe using the Safety Check feature?

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Dennis Faas's picture

I have never had to use Safety Check, nor do I have any friends who have had to use it - but there is no doubt that this feature is extremely helpful. One of the most haunting memories I have of the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001 was seeing photos of loved ones posted around the city with the words "Have you seen me?" - certainly having a service such as Safety Check would have been very useful during such a disastrous time.