Trending: A reckoning for the gig economy: Why Amazon and Uber are facing new scrutiny over contract workers
(Facebook Image)

When a series of tornadoes hit the New Orleans area on Tuesday, many locals turned to Facebook to alert friends and family they were safe before turning to other sites to offer or find help.

With a new update to Facebook’s Safety Check feature announced Wednesday, people will now be able to offer assistance directly on the platform.

The feature, called Community Help, enables people in the area of a disaster to post when they have supplies such as food and water or shelter available. Locals will then be able to search by category and location to find the help they need.

Since launching in 2014, Safety Check has been activated for major disasters and crises around the world, including the Orlando nightclub shooting and the Nepal earthquake. Facebook engineers were inspired to create the feature after noticing people were using the site tell friends they were safe after the 2011 Fukushima earthquake.

Community Help was also inspired by Facebook users’ uses of the site. Naomi Gleit, Facebook’s VP of social good, said in a blog post Wednesday that the arose after Facebook saw people creating groups to find help in the aftermath of deadly flooding in Chennai, India, in 2015.

“Our belief is that the community can teach us new ways to use the platform,” Gleit wrote.

The update, however, will only be available for natural and accidental disasters, according to Facebook. With disasters such as last month’s Quebec City mosque shooting or the 2015 Paris attacks, people will only see the safety check option. It’s unclear why Facebook left out such crises, but the site said it would look to add additional types of incidents over time.

Facebook consulted with humanitarian relief organizations and experts to create the feature, which will roll out in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and Saudi Arabia over the next few weeks. In those countries, it will be activated alongside Safety Check.

In order for Safety Check to be activated, the global reporting agencies NC4 and iJET International must alert Facebook about an incident and name it. The site will then monitor posts in the area, and, if there’s a lot of people talking about the incident, Safety Check will turn on.

In the past, Facebook has been criticized for not consistently activating Safety Check during events in the Middle East. The feature was used during the terrorist attacks in Paris, but not for an attack one day earlier in Beirut. Last year, there were calls for the site to enable it, or the popular flag profile photo filter, during attacks in Aleppo.

In a 2015 post about the feature, Facebook’s VP of Growth Alex Schultz said the site doesn’t activate the feature for events such as Beirut because they aren’t limited to a single incident.

“During an ongoing crisis, like war or epidemic, Safety Check in its current form is not that useful for people: because there isn’t a clear start or end point and, unfortunately, it’s impossible to know when someone is truly ‘safe,’” Schultz wrote.

With the latest update adding Community Help, its possible the site will extend the feature to such events.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to GeekWire's free newsletters to catch every headline

Comments

Job Listings on GeekWork

Application SpecialistCity of Missoula
Entrepreneur-in-Residence // Co-FounderALLEN INSTITUTE FOR ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI2)
Senior UI DesignerALLEN INSTITUTE FOR ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI2)
Find more jobs on GeekWork. Employers, post a job here.