Facebook is testing ways to help its users notify loved ones of their safety in case of emergencies, as social media proves an invaluable resource for reaching out during disasters.
Facebook is testing its new Disaster Message Board in Japan, a feature that appears on a user’s page when an emergency hits their area. Users can click the “I’m Safe” button, instantly notifying friends and family they are unharmed.
When disaster strikes, social media users are already using Facebook to alert friends and loved ones, especially since landline and mobile phone infrastructure could easily be damaged. Facebook’s feature allows users to send a safety message in mere seconds.
The development offers potential to transform Facebook from an entertainment and social platform into a Web community, capitalizing on its efficiency, reliability and widespread popularity in a new way.
In addition to the “I’m Safe” status, a list of area friends would pop up, along with their statuses. The message board features lets those in the affected area share information about what’s going on, spreading vital information about care centers, medical resources, or remediation efforts.
Facebook’s new testing follows last summer’s cooperative meeting with federal agencies and non-profit officials on the social network’s efforts for emergency management.
The testing also comes in response to a proven use of social media during emergencies. In the recent Costa Concordia sinking off the coast of Italy, scrambling passengers reached out to loved ones on Facebook and Twitter.
Last year, when a devastating tsunami struck Japan and caused multiple disaster situations throughout the region, similar outreach from survivors alerted those abroad to their safety.
In the U.S., residents in Joplin, Mo. took to social media to connect after power disruptions disabled landline telephone service following a tornado, illustrating the many ways people are using social media in emergencies.
Elsewhere in the industry, Google is also doing its part. During the Japanese tsunami, Street View and Person Tracker were invaluable in helping assess damage and keep track of missing people. As the world over becomes more connected on smartphones, such technologies are becoming less of a unique feature, and more of a utility for daily operation.
For some time now, social media plays a role in how we manage disasters, but now companies, as they reach billions of people worldwide, are finding ways to maximize their contribution. For Facebook, recent moves suggest a future of an online community helping to monitor the public welfare of the world.