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So Facebook released Safety Check this week (see release here). The general idea behind Safety Check is that when a disaster strikes Facebook will alert users in the area to check-in to let their friends & family know that they are safe.

At a first glance Safety Check seems pretty amazing. With the click of a button you can tell your loved ones that you’re doing OK. This is incredible.

But is there another side?

Safety Check – Raises Questions

What if something is wrong? What if you don’t get alerted? What if Facebook gets your location wrong and doesn’t realize you are in the disaster area? Will the authorities be able to help you if you tell them you aren’t safe? If you don’t check in – will someone come looking for you? Who declares these disasters?

Let’s take a look at a few of these question.

Location – Facebook has done a pretty good job of figuring out where you are with your account. Safe Central uses a combination of your geo-location (if enabled), registered location (hometown), and the location of the IP address you’re on. This approach appears pretty thorough and I can’t think of many more steps that they could take that are reasonable. I am curious what happens for those that are in the area but for whatever reason don’t look to Facebook like they are (e.g. running a Tor or some other privacy proxy). Can a user “declare” themselves to be in the area? If they can do that what about spoofers?

I’m OK – Letting your friends & family know you’re OK is a powerful thing as it removes so much worry. However, this capability raises some big questions. Consider the following:

  • I’m Not OK –  Here’s where things begin to get really interesting. What happens when Safety Check pings someone and they are NOT OK? Does Facebook plan to intervene? Do they plan to forward information to authorities? I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth too much but I’m curious.
  • I Was OK – What if I’m OK initially, but as the disaster evolves I get into trouble? Can I change my answer to “NOT OK”?

Emergency Management and First Responders

Facebook says that Safety Check is not an Emergency Management tool. But what does that mean? Is there an expectation that EMs will respond if you indicate you are not safe? They don’t appear to have access.

Positives for First Responders and Emergency Managers
  • Personal – Knowing that your own family & friends are safe in a disaster can release an incredible burden while you focus in on doing your job. It’s hard enough to do the job without that question bouncing around.
  • Reduced Load – It is possible that by self-reporting your safe status you may reduce the burden on the various call lines (311/511/911 in US & Canada) and allow people to focus on where help is needed.
Negatives for First Responders and Emergency Managers

Not to be staring again at this gift horse’s teeth, but there are some downside here.

  • Personal – What happens if one of your loved ones indicates that they are not ok – or doesn’t use Safety Check? How does that affect your performance. Would you rather know (and possibly be wrong) or find out later after you’ve done your hard work to keep us safe?
  • Unrealistic Expectations – What will the Facebook-engaged community expect of you and do you have the tools, personnel, and processes to do what is expected? Given how new this is I’ll bet that’s a big No on all three counts.

Safe central provides some amazing capabilities. But we need to be thinking about what this new capability means and what gaps it has (or exposes). If you have any ideas, please weigh in here.



Safety Check screens on laptop and phone

Safety Check Detailed Look – Focusing on the Emergency/Disaster