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After a Disaster, Facebook Is Making It Easier to Find or Give Help

Facebook just rolled out a new feature designed to connect people in a time of crisis.

Named Community Help, it's part of Safety Check, the feature that allows users to mark themselves safe after a natural disaster, accident, fire, terrorist attack or other serious incident.

When people mark themselves safe in Facebook's Safety Check feature, they will be presented with an option to find help. Users will be able to connect with good samaritans on Facebook who are able to offer shelter, water, transportation, baby supplies, or something else. Users can also parse through the results in various ways, such as the number of people a good samaritan is willing to shelter.

Image: Safety Check is demonstrated through images released by Facebook.
Safety Check is demonstrated through images released by Facebook. Facebook

"Designing for such a large, diverse audience is an intimidating task because these tools need to work across a number of factors like languages, cultures, borders, network conditions and so on. Our team in particular faces the added challenge of ensuring that the tools we design can be used in difficult crisis environments where people are under extreme duress," said Preethi Chethan, a product designer on the social good team at Facebook, in a Medium post.

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At a briefing ahead of the announcement in San Francisco, Chethan explained how she and her team traveled to Chennai, India, to learn about the experience of using Safety Check after flooding.

What they learned rang true around the world after a major incident: People want to help their neighbors, regardless if it's in Paris after the terror attacks or Oakland after the Ghost Ship warehouse fire.

Community Help will live within Safety Check. For the first few weeks, Facebook plans to roll it out in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, and Saudi Arabia, and will focus solely on natural disasters and accidents. After that, Facebook expects to go global with the feature and eventually support a variety of emergency incidents.

Image: Through Safety check on Facebook, people can ask and offer help within their community in times of crisis.
Through Safety check on Facebook, people can ask and offer help within their community in times of crisis. Facebook

Relying on the kindness of strangers of course comes with some safety concerns. Facebook is making it clear that it will push user education around safety by adding controls to report posts and respecting privacy by showing a wide circle of a person's location, instead of an actual pin. Community Help will also be limited to users 18 and older.