Facebook’s Safety Check feature has evolve since its inaugural use during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. From alerting people of your status during a natural disaster to its use during terrorist attacks and to its more recent community-activated capability, the feature has become increasingly important for a lot of users. However, it’s one thing to let people know you’re okay, but it’s another to be able to help your fellow humans in a time of need.
In November, Facebook unveiled a tool called Community Help. The intention was to offer communities a place to not only ask for help but to also render aid to those affected by disaster. Today, the social networking company is launching this as an extension of Safety Check.
Available starting in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, and Saudi Arabia, Community Help consolidates relief efforts that have previously been done using a spate of social networks, spreadsheets, and other archaic methods. Now, when a natural or accidental incident occurs and Facebook’s Safety Check is activated, so too is Community Help.
Those impacted by the disaster can inform friends and loved ones that they’re safe while others mobilize to assist those dealing with loss. Community Help is a place for people with means to offer assistance around 11 different categories, such as shelter, transportation, water, equipment, pet supplies, toiletries, and more. Inquiries and offers for help must be made within Safety Check, so if you create a post on Facebook saying you can donate cans of food, it won’t be accounted for in Community Help. But based on your geography, you might receive a prompt to look into Safety Check.
Should you find yourself needing assistance, you can browse through the various offers. The category with the most postings will appear at the top of the section. As you glance through each post, Facebook will show which kind neighbor you have mutual connections with. This is one of the ways the company wants to make this process as safe as possible. Other safety and privacy controls in place include limiting contributions to those 18 years or older, allowing you to report suspicious posts, providing user education around general best practices, and not displaying exact locations of posters.
This week, weather in the San Francisco Bay Area is pretty gloomy, with seemingly endless rain. In Napa County, some rivers have begun cresting and flooding has occurred. Should crisis reporting agencies NC4 and iJET International determine there’s an incident, these agencies will notify Facebook, which will begin monitoring activity on the social network. If enough people begin mentioning the flooding and dangers, then Safety Check will be enacted and those in a specific geographic area will be prompted to check in and let loved ones know they’re okay.
In the unfortunate event some people are stranded or worse, they could use Community Help to let their neighbors know that they need assistance. Or, if you find yourself wanting to help those impacted, you can post what you have to offer.
Safety Check only answered one need that people had in a disaster: “I want to reassure loved ones that I am safe.” But what about the other desire: “I want to find or provide goods and services?” Community Help is the answer to that question. It’s currently limited to natural and accidental incidents, and Facebook doesn’t have any current plans to expand into other crisis types, although the company is taking a “wait and see” approach to determine how useful this tool will be to people.