When natural or unnatural disasters happen, a lot of people turn to social networks for news, updates, and details about loved ones impacted.
One of the networks that people go to first is Facebook. Noting how often the site is used to convey status messages following a disaster (“I’m ok!”), Facebook has created a new feature called Safety Check that can be used with a mobile device or through the desktop version of the site.
Using Safety Check
When a person is located in an area where a disaster has struck, Facebook will send an alert to those people with the question: “are you safe?” The notification will prompt users to tap a button that will then alert Facebook friends of that person’s status. For example, let’s say that your area has just experienced an earthquake. Using the location that you list on your Facebook page, the social network will determine whether or not you are in that location, and send you the notification alert right away.
Once you tap the “I’m Okay!” button, a status update will be sent to those people that follow your Facebook updates. The idea behind the new notification is a good one, but it might not be a fully developed idea quite yet. The obvious addition to this new Facebook feature would be to include some kind of help line that people can also access instantly, just in case they aren’t safe. But, the app doesn’t include a help line yet.
The main problem with the new Facebook feature is that it won’t do much good if you don’t have Internet connectivity. In that case, you’ll have to tell people that you are safe some other way. Some critics are also pointing out that being in a disaster area with a working Internet connection doesn’t prevent people from typing, or from writing their own Facebook status updates.
Then again, if you’re in the middle of a disaster and you are panic stricken, you may not feel like going to Facebook to post a status update. A quick tap of a button, however, could be a lifesaver - especially if you have a connection for only a few minutes.
There are also some stats to think about here too. Someone is going to gather up all of the Facebook notification flashes that were sent out, and let the world know that, say, thousand of people haven’t responded to those notifications - not exactly comforting if you are trying to locate a family member or friend and haven’t heard any news.
The concept of an app that can help people in distress is really a great start to the various ways that technology can aid people in disastrous situations. Presumably, Facebook will also send out notifications to people that are in the midst of war zones and other disasters, though these details haven’t yet been released.
The next time that you hear of a disaster and wonder whether or not your friends and family are okay, look to Facebook for some updates. You may not be able to hear from someone, but that small notification could be a real godsend.