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June 8, 2017

Facebook Debuts Disaster Maps to Help in Times of Crisis

Facebook wants to do more to help during natural disasters.

The social network has launched a new set of tools to power special maps to aid relief organizations responding in disaster zones.

The disaster maps use aggregated, de-identified Facebook data to help organizations “address the critical gap in information they often face when responding to natural disasters.”

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“After a flood, fire, earthquake or other natural disaster, response organizations need accurate information, and every minute counts in saving lives,” Facebook public policy research manager Molly Jackman said in a blog post. “Traditional communication channels are often offline and it can take significant time and resources to understand where help is desperately needed.”

A number of other charitable relief organizations partnered with Facebook to identify the type of data that would be most useful during crisis situations.

The partnership resulted in three main types of disaster maps.

• Location density maps — This type of map shows where people are located before, during and after a disaster. This data is then compared with historical records, like population estimates based on satellite images to help organizations gain a better understanding of the areas in crisis.

• Movement maps — This map portrays “patterns of movement between different neighborhoods or cities over a period of several hours.” Understanding such patterns enables charities to make informed predictions on where resources will be needed. Movement maps will also offer insight into patterns of evacuation and predict areas of traffic congestion.

• Safety Check maps — This type of map comes into play based on where Facebook’s Safety Check tool is in use. Safety Check enables Facebook members to notify family and friends they are safe with just a single tap of the finger. The tool also allows users to mark friends as safe after they have checked in. The de-identified data, used in aggregate, reveals where people check in as safe, which, in turn, aids organizations in identifying where help is most needed.

Facebook is initially sharing its maps “with trusted organizations that have capacity to act on the data and respect our privacy standards,” including UNICEF, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the World Food Programme.

“We are working with these organizations to establish formal processes for responsibly sharing the datasets with others,” Jackman said. “Over time, we intend to make it possible for additional organizations and governments to participate in this program.”


Jennifer Cowan is the Managing Editor for SiteProNews.