Facebook Launches Safety Check Feature for Natural Disasters

Facebook's "Safety Check" feature lets users notify friends and family of their safety when natural disasters hit. Facebook

Facebook's 1.32 billion users already update their friends and family on their jobs, vacations and clothing choices. Now, with a new feature launched by the social networking site Wednesday, users can update people about their safety during disasters.

With "Safety Check," users can let friends and family know whether they're safe when an earthquake, hurricane or other natural disaster hits. Employing the city listed in user profiles, the latest check-in spot or the location from which users are accessing the Internet, Facebook will activate the tool and determine who is in the affected area, sending a notification regarding someone's safety.

Users have the option to tap "I'm safe" or "I'm not in the area," and to mark friends as safe as well (though they will need to approve it). The choice will generate a newsfeed story. If users have friends in an affected area who are marked as safe, they'll receive a notification that will take them to a Security Check bookmark with a list of updates.

Facebook's "Safety Check" sends users a notification if they are in an area hit by natural disaster. Facebook

In a news release on Facebook's site, VP of Product Management Naomi Gleit, Product Manager Sharon Zeng and Sotware Engineer Peter Cottle said the feature is intended to help users in the vicinity of a disaster or crisis communicate their safety to loved ones. "It is in these moments that communication is most critical both for people in the affected areas and for their friends and families anxious for news," the release said.

Safety Check builds on the efforts of its engineers in Japan following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. They created the Disaster Message Board to facilitate communication after the disaster, which killed nearly 20,000 people, destroyed nearly 300,000 homes and displaced 400,000 individuals, according to a one-year retrospective report from the American Red Cross. The Safety Check feature is supposed to streamline post-disaster communications even further.

The Saftey Check feature will be available globally on Android, iOS, desktop as well as cell phones many use to access Facebook, especially in developing countries, according to the Associated Press.

The announcement came just a day before Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills, an annual opportunity for people around the world to practice earthquake procedures in case the ground below them should start to rumble. More than 20 million people, primarily in the U.S., but also in Canada, India, Afghanistan, Mexico, Pakistan and the Philippines, are registered to participate in 2014 drills.

As millions prepare for a potential disaster, Facebook has added one more tool to the arsenal of preparedness—one that concerned mothers will surely appreciate.

"We hope it's a tool that helps you stay connected to those you care about," the company says, "and gives you the comfort of knowing your loved ones are safe."