Social media has shown itself to be a powerful tool for community organizing after a disaster. We saw an example of it in the London riots of 2011 when hundreds of people turn out to clean up the damage. We saw other examples recently in Hurricane Sandy.
Facebook is now offering a new tool to make it easier for people to help each other in the wake of disaster. The new feature, called Community Check, is an update to Facebook’s existing Safety Check program. Safety Check was developed in 2014 to allow those potentially affected by a disaster to let friends know that they are okay. When Facebook becomes aware of a crisis, it monitors traffic in the area and, if sufficient volume is noted, activates Safety Check. The program queries people in the affected area and asks if the wish to post that they are okay.
Community Check works as part of Safety Check. People in the affected area can post needs or available resources that can then be searched by category. Once the person finds a match, they can message the other party and match needs to resources. The program is being rolled out in a few countries (including the US) over the next few months.
The concept of people helping people is not new and every emergency manager acknowledges that more people are helped by their neighbors than by first responders. Programs like Community Check merely make that process more efficient. However, it also raises some concerns that we need to consider.
- What expectations might we see raised in the future? Will programs like Community Check generate the demand that public agencies monitor social media and respond to requests for aid?
- Should we integrate programs like this into our planning and logistics systems and, if so, how? We are good a moving bulk goods to points of distribution but do not have the resources to move individual items directly to the end user. Does this offer a possible way to fill that gap?
- Considering the potential for misuse of social media systems, who is responsible if something bad happens? Do local governments have a liability exposure by integrating with these systems?
- What will be the effect of programs like Community Check on our issues with donations management?
Our emergency planning has long been based on the false belief that the most efficient way to provide disaster relief is through strong central control. Social media is a constant reminder that we are merely one voice in a discussion involving many community actors. As programs like Community Check demonstrate, people aren’t just going to sit around waiting for rescue; they’re going to be proactive and we need to decide how we can best support their efforts.