This Facebook Safety Check Update Is So Important

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Social media has become a powerful communication tool, and in some situations, that means it can even save lives. Now, there's a new way to help those in need via social networking: Facebook has launched Community Help, an update for Facebook's Safety Check, which allows people to provide shelter, food, transportation, or other resources for others during times of crisis, such as right after a natural disaster. For two weeks, starting on Feb. 8 (that's today!), Facebook will first launch and test out Community Help in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, and Saudi Arabia before making improvements and then making it available worldwide.

Even if you haven't heard of Facebook's Safety Check before, you might have seen friends "mark themselves safe" during crises like a shooting. That's Safety Check in the works. The feature was launched back in 2014 and has since become a go-to tool for people to let their loved ones know they're OK, like in the case of incidents like the Paris terrorist attacks that occurred in November 2015.

Worth noting, though, is this: Safety Check isn't something you can activate whenever you want. Facebook must first receive the notification that something has happened via an alert from NC4 and iJET International, two major global crisis reporting organizations. That's when Facebook starts to monitor posts online and users who are talking about the incident. Safety Check will prompt people, especially those who are located in the area of danger, to mark themselves safe.

That's when Community Help will pop up, working as an extension of Safety Check that lets people identify and directly message those who need help (and vice versa, so that people who are looking for aid can find it).

Here's what Community Help will look like on your smartphone once Safety Check has been activated:

Courtesy of Facebook

As you can see above, there are options for you to "tell friends you're safe" as well as give and find specific types of help (note the red and green buttons on the left). For now, the two main types of incidents that will apply for activating Community Help are natural and accidental incidents, like a hurricane or fire in the city. You'll be able to view posts according to category and location so that it's easy to navigate and find exactly what you're looking for.

Categories for help range from food and water to transportation. You can also identify people who can provide baby supplies, equipment, toiletries, and other types of relief help. A map allows you to see how far away the person in need is, so you can estimate how long it will take you to get there. Once help has been provided, people can update their requests (or offers) for help, according to a Medium post by Preethi Chethan, one of the Facebook designers of Community Help.

Not sure exactly where to find Safety Check in your Facebook account? No problem. If you're located in the crisis area and/or you start posting about the crisis on your profile, Safety Check will automatically appear at the top of your mobile phone screen, prompting you to let friends know you're safe and activate Safety Check (and Community Help).

Here's what Safety Check looks like as a pop-up on your phone:

Courtesy of Facebook

What's awesome about Community Help as a crisis response tool is how it is able to match up people who are in the location and either need specific types of aid or can provide that aid. While the hope is that we'll never actually need to use Community Help, it's good to know the option is there should a crisis ever arise.