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Include Social Media in Every Disaster Preparedness Kit

As more and more people use social media to connect and share, we have seen that in times of disaster, people turn to T to get information about what’s happening around them and to check whether their friends and family are safe.

Throughout the Asia-Pacific region, we see hundreds of millions of people regularly connecting and sharing via Facebook each month, making it a powerful tool to assist friends, family, communities and organisations to prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters.

At Facebook, we want to help amplify how we see people using our platform in times of crisis, to make it easier for them to find what they need – information, support or supplies – and offer assistance to others. We have developed a number of tools and resources, like our Safety Check feature, donation campaigns and the Facebook Prepare and Respond Guide, which aim to do this.

Safety Check

Time and again during disasters, we have seen our services become an effective way to communicate with loved ones, particularly when large numbers of people are affected.

This was evident during the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. According to the Japanese Red Cross, more than 12.5 million people were affected nationwide, and more than 400,000 people were evacuated. During that crisis we saw how people used technology and social media to stay connected with those they cared about. It is in these moments that communication is critical for people in the affected areas and for their friends and families anxious for news.

Our engineers in Japan took the first step toward creating a tool – Safety Check – to make it easier to communicate with others.

Safety Check, which is available globally on Android, iOS, feature phones and desktop, provides a simple and easy way for an individual to let their friends and family on Facebook know they are safe, and it allows friends and family to check in to see if their loved ones in an area affected by an emergency are safe.

Facebook decides to activate Safety Check based on criteria about severity and type of incident, and in consultation with relevant government agencies in the affected area. We also work closely with local government authorities to identify if the tool can be helpful during an emergency.

To date we have activated Safety Check for four natural disasters – after Typhoon Ruby in the Philippines, in the wake of Cyclone Pam, following the Nepal Earthquakes, and most recently in response to the earthquake in Chile. To date, millions of people have used Safety Check to mark themselves safe, and hundreds of millions more friends and family have been notified that their loved ones were safe. And we’ve seen countless expressions of love, gratitude and relief for this information, confirming how impactful social media can be in times of disaster.

Donation campaigns

In addition to people turning to our services to reach friends and family and receive news and information about a disaster, we also see people turn to Facebook to try to help those impacted.

To make it easier for people to help, we have deployed several donation campaigns that invite the Facebook community to donate to organizations assisting people impacted by a disaster. Facebook targets users directly at the top of their Newsfeeds, and provides a link that, when they click through, allows them to donate directly to an organization without ever leaving Facebook.

We have activated donation campaigns in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, in response to the Ebola crisis in Africa in late 2014, after the Nepal Earthquakes, and most following the devastating floods in Myanmar in July 2015.

Our largest donation campaign was in response to the 2015 Nepal Earthquakes. In just 60 days, the Facebook community responded generously to the campaign with more than 750,000 people donating $15.4M dollars to support earthquake survivors. All of the money raised went to the International Medical Corps to support relief and recovery efforts on the ground. Facebook provided a matching donation of an additional $2M, which is being disbursed through Give2Asia to local organizations working on ongoing rebuilding efforts in Nepal. You can view a short video that thanks all those who donated and show how their donations were being used to help people in Nepal on the Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/facebook/videos/10154085994656729/).

Examples of Facebook Safety Check in action.

Examples of Facebook Safety Check in action.

Prepare and Respond Guide

Throughout the world, we have been learning how organisations like American Red Cross, World Food Program USA, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service and Federal Emergency Management Agency use Facebook as part of their disaster response strategies.

These organisations employ Facebook in a variety of ways, from providing tips on keeping people and property safe, sharing important updates as a storm front or fire approaches, or rallying people to help others after disaster strikes. An example of this in New Zealand are the Student Volunteer Army who took to Facebook to help others, particularly the elderly, in the wake of the devastating Christchurch earthquake in 2011. Another example was in Japan, following the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, many organisations such as the Japan Bousaishi (disaster prevention specialists) Society turned to Facebook to share useful information such as disaster drills, disaster prevention workshops, and calls-to-action across the island nation.

To assist individuals, communities and organisations maximize the impact of their outreach and engagement on Facebook, we developed the ‘Prepare and Respond’ Guide, which is a collection of worldwide best practice to connect with others and better prepare for and respond to natural disasters. The guide offers tips and case studies on how to maximise the impact of Facebook Pages, which are the foundation for a two-way communication with the community of people interested in your work.

The different features of Facebook Pages – like Timeline, Cover and Profile Photos, and the About section – allow your organisation to inform and engage members of the public as well as employees or volunteers from other stakeholders.

To take one example – Pages – the Guide provides tips about how organisations can manage their Page posting strategy to provide people with the information they need before, during and after a disaster.

  • Before: Create a Page posting strategy designed to keep people informed in advance of any disasters. Regularly posting helps your organisation stay front of mind as a credible and reliable resource during disasters. For example, post relevant tips to remind people of the steps they can take to keep themselves and their family prepared for a disaster that can strike at any time, like an earthquake, or impending severe weather or flooding.
  • During: Timing is crucial – post regularly with photos and videos, share links to more in-depth information, and, when appropriate, target posts to people in specific locations. Respond to questions and feedback in the comments sections of your posts.
  • After: Post direct and clear information about where community members can receive assistance and how they can help in the recovery effort through donations or volunteer opportunities.

Ensuring that they have a Page posting best practice strategy on how to best use Facebook can allow community groups, government organisations and other front line responders engage the public and help people stay informed.

You can obtain a copy of the Prepare and Respond Guide at the Disaster Response in the resources section of the Disaster Relief on Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/disaster) that we manage. You can also like the Disaster Relief Page for keeping track of tips and tools fro around the world related to disaster management and response. We hope you never need it!

For more information, go to www.Facebook.com/disaster

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Marcy Lynn, Programs Manager on the Facebook Crisis Tools Team.