Back in 2011, after the Japanese tsunami killed 15,884 people, Facebook’s message board was an incredibly useful tool for people to locate displaced family and friends. Safety Check was created as a supplementary feature to it’s Disaster Message Board. You might be thinking, why not just send a message to a few friends telling them you’re fine? Or give them a call? The problem is if you’re in a disaster or an emergency area, lines could be down and you might not be able to make calls. Or if you’re in a sheltered sanctuary with lots of other people, your 4G could be lagging. Safety Check’s quick click makes it incredibly easy to let everyone know immediately that you’re safe and unharmed.
Facebook can detect your location and is aware of your proximity to a natural disaster. Upon unlocking your phone, Facebook will ask you “Are you okay? Looks like you’re in the area affected by [specific natural disaster] let friends know if you’re safe.” You’re then prompted to click “I’m safe” or “I’m not in the area”. In turn, Facebook will specifically notify all friends that you are “marked safe.” You can also view which of your friends in the area have marked themselves safe or affected. You can even comment on friends’ safety statuses.
Social media can be most critical form of dialogue during disasters or times of emergency. Zuckerberg sees Safety Check as an integral auxiliary to ensuring communication in the midst of danger. In a Facebook post he laid out his reasoning for the new feature writing, “Over the last few years there have been many disasters and crises where people have turned to the Internet for help. Each time, we see people use Facebook to check on their loved ones and see if they’re safe. Connecting with people is always valuable, but these are the moments when it matters most. Safety Check is our way of helping our community during natural disasters and gives you an easy and simple way to say you’re safe and check on all your friends and family in one place.”
Safety Check will no doubt be incredibly useful to get word out that all is fine in the initial panic and confusion which follows any natural disaster, but it’ll never replace the relief that comes with hearing a voice on the other end of the phone to confirm safety to close friends and family.