Facebook’s Safety Check Now Includes Community Help Features

Community Help enables users to either offer or locate assistance such as food, shelter or transportation during times of crisis

Facebook introduced its Safety Check feature in October 2014 to enable users to let friends and family know they were safe during natural disasters, acts of terrorism or other crisis situations. Starting Wednesday, Safety Check can do even more.

The social network began rollout out a new feature for Safety Check, Community Help, which it initially announced at its Social Good Forum in New York last November.

Community Help enables users to either offer or locate assistance such as food, shelter or transportation during times of crisis, and Facebook vice president of social good Naomi Gleit said in a Newsroom post announcing its launch that the feature will initially be available for natural and accidental incidents, such as earthquakes or fires, starting in the following countries “for the first couple of weeks”: U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and Saudi Arabia. Gleit added:

As we learn more about how people use the product, we will look to improve it and make it available for all countries and additional types of incidents.

She wrote in the Newsroom post:

With Community Help, people can find and give help and message others directly to connect after a crisis. Posts can be viewed by category and location, making it easier for people to find the help they need.

For the community to use Community Help after an incident, Safety Check must first be activated. For Safety Check to activate, two things need to happen:

  • First, global crisis reporting agencies NC4 and iJET International alert Facebook that an incident has occurred and give it a title, and we begin monitoring for posts about the incident in the area.
  • Second, if a lot of people are talking about the incident, they may be prompted to mark themselves safe and invite others to do the same.

And starting today, if an incident is a natural or accidental disaster, people will see Community Help. They can find or give help, and message others directly to connect from within Safety Check.

FacebookSafetyCheckDemo from SocialTimes on Vimeo.

Facebook Social Good product designer Preethi Chethan penned a detailed blog post about the research and design process behind Community Help. Highlights follow:

With the goal of understanding our audience and designing with empathy, we traveled across the world last year to communities that had experienced different types of crises. In early 2016, my team and I were in Chennai, India, to learn more about people’s experience with the devastating floods they had recently experienced, whether Safety Check was useful to them and what else we could be doing to help. During this week, we heard story after story of people opening up their homes to their neighbors, cooking and traveling miles (sometimes swimming through chest-deep water) to deliver food to badly affected neighborhoods and even risking their lives to save stranded animals. As we traveled to other cities around the world, we quickly realized that these powerful stories of generosity were not unique to Chennai. We heard similar stories in Kumamoto after the earthquake, in Paris after the terror attacks, in Fort McMurray after the wildfire and in Oakland after the warehouse fire. It became clear to us that regardless of borders, cultures, languages, or the type of crisis, there were two insights in common across these places:

  • Communities are resilient. There was an overwhelming sense of goodwill and kindness in people after the crisis and they really came together to support each other in times of need.
  • Even though Safety Check worked exactly as intended and was a valuable tool to quickly reassure loved ones of users’ safety, people in the affected area had a lot of other needs like relief supplies and services, access to information, etc., and there was a lot Facebook could be doing to help. The need for basic supplies and services like food, water, shelter, clothing and transportation is higher and more exaggerated during natural disasters that disrupt the infrastructure of the affected area, especially in the short term after a crisis.

We wanted to solve some of these fundamental problems by designing a tool that would connect people who needed help with those who could offer help in the community more seamlessly and efficiently. We believe that Facebook is the right platform to do this because this is where communities naturally gather currently and we can create connections between people better than anyone else. So starting from sketches and paper prototypes, we started to design and iterate toward a solution.

Readers: Have you ever used Facebook’s Safety Check feature? What was your experience like?

Facebook Safety Check Guide by David Cohen on Scribd

david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.