As frivolous as Facebook can be, it's where many people turn when disaster strikes. Facebook announced a new feature Thursday to help users broadcast their well-being and check on friends and family members who may have been affected by natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, or tsunamis.
"Safety Check" will be available globally on iOS, Android, feature phones, and desktops, the social network said in an announcement. If you're in the affected area when a natural disaster strikes, Facebook will send a push notification asking if you're safe.
Facebook says it will determine your location based on information such as the city you list on your profile, the location where you're using the Internet, and Nearby Friends, a feature that tracks your location, if you have it enabled.
If you receive a push notification and are not in the location of the disaster, you can mark that you're outside the affected area. If you're safe, mark that option, and Facebook will send a notification to your friends and post to their news feeds that you're OK.
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If you have friends in the affected area, Facebook will notify you about the ones who have marked themselves safe. You can also click the notification to take you to the Safety Check bookmark that will display a list of their updates, the social network said. Only your friends will see your safety status and any comments you share.
Facebook said it developed the tool after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which affected more than 12.5 million people. "During that crisis we saw how many people used technology and social media to stay connected with those they cared about."
Safety Check grew out the Disaster Message Board, a tool that Facebook engineers tested a year after the disaster in Japan.
"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," Facebook said.
Google has also offered tools to help people following crises. It launched a Crisis Response page that highlights information such as storm paths, shelter locations, emergency numbers, and donation opportunities. It has also launched Google Person Finder pages to help people connect with friends and family who may have been affected.
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