Facebook is introducing a new feature that allows users to update their status and assure friends that they are still alive after natural disasters. The feature, dubbed Safety Check, works in a similar way to a mobile app that tells you there are some nice restaurant choices nearby, only instead of searching for upscale trattorias, it alerts you there has been an earthquake or tsunami nearby. “When someone’s within range of an unfolding natural disaster, they’ll get a notification from Facebook prompting them to tap a button to signify that they’re safe, or to say they’re not in the area,” reports the Guardian. Users can then post “I’m Safe” to inform their family and friends.
Introducing the feature, Facebook pointed to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan as its beginning. “The 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan was devastating. According to the Japanese Red Cross, more than 12.5 million people were affected nationwide, and more than 400,000 people were evacuated. During that crisis we saw how people used technology and social media to stay connected with those they cared about. Our engineers in Japan took the first step toward creating a product to improve the experience of reconnecting after a disaster. 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. Unfortunately, these kinds of disasters happen all too frequently. Each time, we see people, relief organizations and first responders turn to Facebook in the aftermath of a major natural disaster.” Although the social media giant gets a lot of flak for some of its practices, this is a wonderful, simple idea. Expect the parodies and prank status updates to come any day soon.