Earlier today in a heartbreaking state of affairs, tragedy struck Belgium’s capital, Brussels, when two terrorist attacks at the Zaventem airport and Maelbeek metro station resulted in the loss of numerous lives and the injury of tens of people. Amid the crisis, Facebook has reactivated the global Safety Check feature, allowing users who may or may not be directly affected by the attacks to let their friends and family know that they are safe.
Facebook Safety Check has been developed by the company’s Japanese engineering team following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake. The service is usually activated during man-made or natural disasters and has been designed to determine whether users located in the affected geographical areas are safe. Following Tuesday’s terrorist attacks on Brussels, Facebook has reactivated Safety Check, allowing people who happen to be located near the events to easily inform their loved ones that they are safe. The system works by sending a notification to all users located in the area affected by the recent crisis, and determines the user’s location based on their Internet connection, and the location of their mobile device – assuming that they have allowed the Facebook application to gain access to the smartphone’s GPS connection. From the notification, users can tap “I’m safe” and Facebook will then inform the user’s friends and loved ones that they have not been affected by the disaster. In addition, Facebook creates a list of friends located near the areas affected by the crisis, and users outside the area can verify the list and check if their friends are OK – assuming that they have responded to their initial notification.
This is not the first time Facebook Safety Check is being enabled amid a crisis. Following its release in October 2014, the tool was reactivated in April and May 2015 following the earthquakes in Nepal, in October 2015 during Hurricane Patricia, in November 2015 following the terrorist attacks in Paris, and in December 2015 during the South Indian floods. Facebook previously revealed that over 950 million people have received a Safety Check notification following a crisis last year, but hopefully, the numbers will only decline as time goes by.