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Facebook Launches "Safety Check" Feature For Major Disasters

The social media giant has announced a feature which allows users to let family and friends know they're safe if they're located in a disaster zone.

Posted on October 16, 2014, at 3:32 a.m. ET

Facebook has announced a new "safety check" feature, which lets users tell family and friends they're OK if they're caught in a disaster zone.

The company described the feature as "a simple and easy way to say you’re safe and check on others," and said that in disasters: "communication is most critical both for people in the affected areas and for their friends and families anxious for news."

The feature lets users alert their friends and family to the fact they're safe, check on others caught in the affected area, and mark their friends as safe.

Only friends will be able to see the safety check updates, and it will be rolled out globally on Android, iOS, feature phones, and desktop, the company said.

The tool becomes activated when Facebook detects a user is in an area affected by a disaster, using either the city they've listed in their profile, the last city they were located in if they had signed up for their "Nearby Friends" project, or the last location they logged onto the internet. A notification is sent to that user, asking if they're safe.

If Facebook gets the location wrong, users can mark themselves as outside the affected area.

If the user is safe, they can click the "I'm Safe" option, which will generate a notification and news feed story. Users can also mark friends as safe.

Once the tool is activated, users will also receive a notification about friends who have marked themselves as safe too. Clicking the notification will take users to a list which shows the updates.

The company said work on the feature was prompted by the 2011 Japanese earthquake, which affected an estimated 12.5 million people.

A statement from the company said: "During that crisis we saw how people used technology and social media to stay connected with those they cared about."

"Our engineers in Japan took the first step toward creating a product to improve the experience of reconnecting after a disaster. They built the Disaster Message Board to make it easier to communicate with others. They launched a test of the tool a year later and the response was overwhelming."

"Each time [in these disasters] we see people, relief organizations and first responders turn to Facebook in the aftermath of a major natural disaster."

You can watch Facebook's video about "Safety Check" here: / Via Facebook

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