SAFETY CHECK: Facebook Tool Simplifies Users’ Communication During Disasters, Crisis Situations

By David Cohen 

SafetyCheck650Facebook often comes into play during natural disasters or other crisis situations as a means for users to check on friends and loved ones, or alert them that they are safe. The social network introduced a tool Thursday to simplify the process, Safety Check.

Safety Check is aimed at allowing users to let friends and family know they are safe, check on the well-being of others in the affected area and mark friends as safe, and only friends will see the safety status updates generated by the tool.

Facebook vice president of product management Naomi Gleit, product manager Sharon Zeng and software engineer Peter Cottle offered instructions on how to use Safety Check in a Newsroom post:

  • When the tool is activated after a natural disaster and if you’re in the affected area, you’ll receive a Facebook notification asking if you’re safe.
  • We’ll determine your location by looking at the city you have listed in your profile, your last location if you’ve opted in to the Nearby Friends product and the city where you are using the Internet.
  • If we get your location wrong, you can mark that you’re outside the affected area.
  • If you’re safe, you can select “I’m Safe” and a notification and News Feed story will be generated with your update. Your friends can also mark you as safe.
  • If you have friends in the area of a natural disaster and the tool has been activated, you will receive a notification about those friends that have marked themselves as safe. Clicking on this notification will take you to the Safety Check bookmark that will show you a list of their updates.


Gleit, Zeng and Cottle wrote in introducing Safety Check:

In times of disaster or crisis, people turn to Facebook to check on loved ones and get updates. 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.

We want to provide a helpful tool that people can use when major disasters strike, so we’ve created Safety Check — a simple and easy way to say you’re safe and check on others.

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.

These events have taught us a lot about how people use Facebook during disasters, and we were personally inspired to continue work on the Disaster Message Board to incorporate what we’ve learned. This project soon became Safety Check, which will be available globally on Android, iOS, feature phones and desktop.

The team set out to create a simple and easy-to-use tool that allows people to connect with their network of friends and family when it matters most.

If you’re ever in a situation that would require you to use Safety Check, we hope it’s a tool that helps you stay connected to those you care about, and gives you the comfort of knowing your loved ones are safe.

Readers: Will Safety Check be a useful addition to Facebook?