Since 2014, Facebook has quietly featured Safety Check, a crisis response tool that lets users in areas struck by natural disasters or other emergencies to confirm their safety on the social network. Originally, Facebook itself would have to activate a Safety Check, but that has changed–the power to activate a safety check is now in the hands of the stricken community.
One of the most devastating elements of any disaster is not knowing if affected friends and loved ones are safe. Safety Check is meant to reduce the fear of this unknown by giving users a simple way to confirm that they are okay, and to check in to make sure the people they cared about were safe as well. However, when Facebook retained total control over the tool’s activation, it was put into effect a total of 39 times worldwide between December of 2014 and December of 2015.
Unfortunately, this number is clearly far too low for a tool meant to chart disasters around the world. As a result, Facebook took steps to put the power to activate Safety Check in the hands of those who would need it most–the communities affected by the crisis in question.
Utilizing a two-step system, Facebook will first receive confirmation that an event is taking place through a network of third-party organizations, and then analyze the chatter put out by the community in the affected area to determine if Safety Check is warranted. This new, fully-automated process has been put to use 328 times since first being tested in June of 2016.
Disasters, unfortunately, are a terrible fact of life on this planet. It is difficult to be prepared for anything, but with tools like Facebook’s Safety Check, we can at least be informed that our loved ones are safe.