There are 170 million Facebook users on the African continent, including some 70 percent of people who are online, and most of them are familiar with features like “Safety Check” in times of a natural disaster or emergency. That’s true, for example, in the ongoing Western Cape wildfires where Facebook Safety Check has been activated.
Now, Facebook has announced that the company will be rolling out a new mapping initiative that will help aid organizations and NGOs pinpoint locations where the most help is needed. Disaster maps drawn from aggregated user data – without specific ID information – will help guide responders to the locations.
“After a flood, fire, earthquake or other natural disaster, response organizations need accurate information, and every minute counts in saving lives,” Facebook said in a release Wednesday. That’s because traditional communication channels are often offline, as was the case in the fire in South Africa’s city of Knysna, and it can take significant time and resources to understand where help is desperately needed.
The Safety Check maps are based on where people use Safety Check to notify their friends and family that they are safe during a disaster, and offer insights into where groups of people may need more aid.
Facebook also will generate location density maps, designed to compare people’s movements when compared with baseline demographics, and movement maps that demonstrate shifts in neighborhoods or cities over shorter time periods. These illustrate evacuation patterns and other helpful data.
Facebook says it has worked with UNICEF, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the World Food Programme, and other organizations to design and use the maps.
Image: Facebook Research