Tech

Facebook's 'Safety Check' Tracks Who's OK After Disasters

Safety Check is a way for Facebook users to signal to friends they're OK

Facebook's 'Safety Check' Tracks Who's OK After Disasters
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SMS

Sometimes it seems one of our first instincts during a natural disaster, for better or for worse, is to check social media.

But Facebook sees the utility in that reflex — it can be a good way to see if people are OK. It's introducing a tool called Safety Check to make the process more standard.

Safety check activates based on the location listed in a user's profile and on the location Facebook detects the user accessing the Internet from.

The one-button service lets all of your friends know you're safe and keeps track of which of them are reporting safe as well. If it's a false alarm, you can tell the app you're not in the affected area.

For the moment, Safety Check is only part of Facebook's app. Facebook works with local authorities to determine what constitutes an emergency, but the tool won't automatically alert police or medical personnel if you don't check in.

"We recognize this tool isn't for everyone or every time," a Facebook rep told Re/code. "It wasn't designed as a first responder tool."

Engadget points out Safety Check is likely to have less impact on the network than voice calling.

That said, wireless data might not be the best option, either.

Cellular and data networks are still less than reliable in emergency scenarios. In Boston, for example, providers couldn't keep up with the surge in use after the bombings at the marathon finish line last year. (Video via ABC)

In fact, the FCC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency suggest using plain old text messages when disaster strikes because it puts the lowest possible strain on potentially unstable networks.

Safety Check is available now on smartphones, feature phones and Facebook's desktop client.