Facebook is unveiling a new feature for users affected by a disaster or crisis to quickly let friends and family know they’re safe.
The tool, called "Safety Check," asks users who appear to be near an affected area to check in to let others know they’re safe or aren't in the disaster zone. Once users reply, their friends will see them marked as safe.
The tool can also show users how many of their friends are in the affected area, the number that have checked in and those who haven’t yet in real time.
To provide this information, Safety Check uses all of your Facebook location-based information including the city listed in your profile, your last location, the "Nearby Friends" feature (if you’ve opted in) and the city where you’re using the Internet.
In a statement Facebook said the idea for Safety Check, originated after the 2011 tsunami and earthquake in Japan that impacted more than 12.5 million people. Many of those people used Facebook and other social media to stay in touch and inspired the social network’s engineers in Japan to begin working on a tool known as "Disaster Message Board" to make it simpler for users to connect with one another in times of crisis and confusion. The engineers said the response to this tool was overwhelming, prompting them to evolve the feature into being the more dynamic Safety Check.
The new feature will soon be available to users worldwide for iOS, Android, desktop browsers and feature phones.