Facebook is rolling out a new feature that will let its users alert their family and friends that they are safe during a natural disaster.

The new feature, called Safety Check, was introduced by Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself at an event in Tokyo, Japan on Thursday. The tool works by designating particular areas as danger zones, such as assigning Tokyo a danger zone status for earthquakes and Manila, Philippines for typhoons. When disaster strikes, Facebook automatically activates Safety Check and pushes a notification to all users in the area. Facebook knows who to notify by pulling information from their listed cities, places they have logged in and Facebook's Nearby Friends tool, which lets users know who among their Facebook friends are within the area.

Assuming users can still get access to electricity and the Internet during crisis, since cell towers, power and Internet infrastructure are usually the first to go down in a disaster, users will receive a question asking them if they are okay. They can then choose to answer that yes, they are safe, which prompts Facebook to notify the user's loved ones on Facebook to help ease their worry. Users can also tell Safety Check that they are not affected by the disaster because they are in a different location. Facebook also allows users to mark other friends in the area as safe as well if their friends cannot go online.

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

Facebook says Safety Check is a tool borne out of the success of Facebook's Disaster Message Board, which was developed by the social network's Japanese engineers to help connect survivors of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami affecting 12.5 million individuals in Japan to their loved ones.

With Facebook's expansive reach to more than 1.3 billion individuals around the world, Safety Check has the potential to become a crucial communication tool during disaster. However, it is important to remember that Safety Check is not a tool used by first responders, and it is not a reliable way for users to alert authorities on their status and call for emergency help.

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