The new Safety Check feature in Facebook was unveiled by CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday afternoon. It was created to help Facebook users quickly alert their friends and family that they are unharmed after a disaster such as an earthquake or tsunami.
Safety Check also allows the user to check whether other people among his contacts are safe. It even allows one to mark a friend as safe after he has received a confirmation alert that says "Yes, I'm safe."
"In times of disaster or crisis, people turn to Facebook to check on loved ones and get updates," wrote Facebook in a blog post. "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."
Safety Check works by sending Facebook users a push notification which asks them if they are safe. The notification is triggered once a natural disaster hits the area which the user has listed as his current location. Users can then view a list that shows who among their Facebook friends are in the area who has checked in that he is safe and who has not.
According to Marcy Scott Lynn, Facebook's global policy programs manager, Facebook will also be communicating with local authorities and experts to gather the needed details in establishing the type of disaster that's worthy of a check-in. Some of the added elements would allow the user to check in for a Friend. If Facebook learns that the user is traveling in a compromised area, Facebook will then ask the user to check in. In essence, the Safety Check feature is all about sharing one type of status -- "Yes, I'm fine."
The Safety Check feature was inspired by the disaster that began on March 11, 2011, when Japan was hit by a devastating 9.0 magnitude earthquake and the resulting tsunami disabled the power supply and cooling of three Fukushima Daiichi reactors on the coast. This is the reason Zuckerberg made the announcement on the feature in Facebook's Japan office. In the aftermath of the earthquake, employees developed a Disaster Message Board for the users of Facebook in Japan in order to help them connect with families and friends. The tool slowly faded as Facebook continues to evolve.
Facebook learned valuable lessons from its Japan counterpart and decided to bring the short-lived disaster messaging tool into a whole new product with improved features.
"Our engineers in Japan took the first step toward creating a product to improve the experience of reconnecting after a disaster," said Facebook. "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."