Facebook unveils 'Safety check' to connect with family during natural disasters

The new feature gives Facebook users the chance to check in with loved ones if natural disasters occur.

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In today's connected world, when a natural disaster occurs, one of the first things that often happens is a breakdown in communication.

When we are desperately trying to ascertain the location of loved ones, any service that helps us in our quest can only be of benefit. Google's Map service includes disaster relief efforts and hotspots when problems occur — such as the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami — and Facebook has now entered the fray with "Safety Check," a tool that is activated in times of crisis.

Facebook announced the new service in a blog post Wednesday. Safety Check is available for users worldwide, and is compatible with multiple platforms and devices.

The tool is activated automatically when disaster strikes. If you are within the affected area, you'll receive a Facebook notification asking if you are safe. Your location is determined by listed cities on your profile, your last check-in, and where you are using the Internet. You can then check "I'm Safe" and both a notification and News Feed story will generate in an update.

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In case you cannot access the Web, friends can also mark you as safe on your behalf.

The company writes:

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.

The Safety Check tool was developed following the launch of the Disaster Message Board in Japan at the time of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The Disaster Message Board service helped connect survivors with family as communication lines failed, and the lessons learned from this situation resulted in the new, global tool.

"Our engineers in Japan took the first step toward creating a product to improve the experience of reconnecting after a disaster," the company writes. "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."

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