Facebook users unite to provide rescue & relief for Harvey’s victims

Facebook users unite to provide rescue & relief for Harvey’s victims

With Hurricane Harvey’s aftermath still unfolding, people from around the world turn to Facebook’s “Safety Check” to locate loved ones or offer support in this time of despair.

The tropical storm entered Texas Friday night before bringing a torrential downpour over the south central region. As the record-breaking rain continues and many Texans still seek rescue, friends and family of those affected struggle to communicate with their loved ones. That’s where Safety Check has offered a solution.

“Anyone in the area in need of items for special needs patients?”

“Just called & confirmed this address still needs assistance.”

“UPDATE: the family has been rescued and taken to safety.”

These are the types of posts that have flooded the social media platform since Friday evening. Facebook’s Safety Check allows users in an affected area during a crisis the ability to label themselves as “safe.” This sends a notification to that person’s Facebook friends to let them know that they are okay. Likewise, a user can search their friends list for people’s safety statuses. Safety Check is automatically turned on once enough people in an affected area have posted about an incident. It was launched back in 2014 and has been deployed after crises such as the Orlando nightclub shooting, Paris attacks and Nepal earthquake.

Not only does the Safety Check allow for safety updates, but it serves as a centralized hub for people to post about the disaster through statuses. Those needed to be rescued can ask for help, and users with supplies or resources can figure out where they are needed. People can share photos and live video to keep others updated on their current conditions. This is a new feature that has been added this year, along with a fundraising corner where people can easily donate to charities involved with the crisis.

“I think it’s a phenomenal idea,” says Dr. Brian Sayger, chairman of emergency medicine at Advocate Children’s Hospital and Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill. “In any kind of disaster, the number one thing is the disruption of normal communication. It’s hard to find loved ones. Are they stranded? Do they need help? Facebook’s Safety Check allows you to better communicate and it allows emergency personnel to more specifically deploy resources to the areas where they are needed.”

Although Safety Check sounds like the missing piece of technology we desperately needed, Dr. Sayger urges to not rely on social media alone.

“Your phone could be dead or cell towers might be down,” he says. “It’s important for you and your family to have a disaster plan in place ahead of time. Have a flashlight, stock of bottled water and a few days’ worth of your medications. Communicate with your family before a disaster to let them know where you plan on seeking shelter.”

Click here to visit Facebook’s Hurricane Harvey Safety Check page.

If you’d like to help, consider making a donation to the disaster relief efforts of one of our faith partners: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and United Church of Christ.

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Caitlin Baxa

Caitlin Baxa, health enews contributor, is a social media specialist at Advocate Health Care in Downers Grove. She earned her BA in broadcast journalism from Columbia College Chicago. When she isn't Facebooking, Instagramming or Tweeting, Caitlin enjoys producing videos, watching scary movies and attending as many Chicago Blackhawks games and country concerts as she can.

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