On Sunday morning, the United States was ripped apart by the deadliest mass shooting in American history. A gunman killed 50 people and wounded 53 more in an attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Facebook activated its first Safety Check in the United States after this horrible tragedy.
The Facebook Safety Check allows users to confirm they are safe in they are near a mass shooting or another dangerous situation. Users can also check on on friends in the area and mark friends as safe. Only friends will see a user’s safety status and the comments that they share.
Facebook determines if users are in affected areas by looking at the city users have listed in their profiles, user’s last location if they have opted in to the Nearby Friends product, and the city where users’ are using the Internet. If Facebook gets a user’s location wrong, they can mark that they are outside the affected area. If users have friends in affected areas and the tool has been activated, they will receive a notification about those friends that have marked themselves as safe.
Facebook was inspired to create Safety Check after the 2011 tsunami and earthquake in Japan that affected more than 12.5 million people nationwide. Japanese engineers created the Disaster Message Board to make it easier to communicate with others. The response was overwhelming positive and morphed into Facebook’s Safety Check. The Paris attacks in November 2015 was the first time Facebook activated the tool for a crisis other than a natural disaster.
Another similar app is Firechat. It was popular during the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong. It has the capabilities to let you message others without the use of an Internet or cellular connection. It connects through other phones equipped with the app.
Our hearts are with the victims and families of the Orlando shooting. It is at least comforting to know that technology is increasingly trying to make it easier to let people know that their loved ones are safe.