Facebook launches Safety Check to keep friends updated after natural disasters

Facebook is launching a new feature enabling its members to check on loved ones during times of crisis called Safety Check.

With many people turning to social media in their anxious moments, the service will provide peace of mind by letting your nearest and dearest know you're okay while also marking your friends as safe.

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Major global disasters have highlighted the important role that social networks play in keeping people connected. The Japanese tsunami in 2011, which affected 12.5 million people nationwide, proved the catalyst for Facebook to develop a specialised response to this type of situation.

Its engineers in Japan initially created the Disaster Message Board to make it easier for user to reconnect following a disaster. It was launched as a test in 2012 and received an overwhelmingly positive response.

The project has now been expanded to become Safety Check, which will be available globally across Android, iOS and desktop platforms.

The tool is activated following a natural disaster, with users in proximity to the event receiving a notification asking if they're safe. The social network determines the user's location through the city listed in their profile, their last listed location on the Nearby Friends feature, and the city where they're using the Internet.

Users can then let Facebook know that they're safe, generating a notification and News Feed story with the update. Users can also confirm that they are outside the affected area, if Facebook gets their location wrong.

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While the majority of users will hopefully never have to use the service, it is reassuring to know Facebook is looking to support users during moments of crisis, particularly with friends, family and even relief organisation increasingly turning to social media in the aftermath of a major disaster.