June 11, 2017
Mark Zuckerberg Unveils Disaster Maps

In February, Mark Zuckerberg announced his intentions to create a global community that works for everyone.

In view of this, the social media giant recently unveiled "Disaster Maps," which is designed to help people affected by disasters such as earthquakes, fires or floods.

"When there's a flood, earthquake, fire or other natural disaster, response organizations need accurate information quickly about where people are in order to save lives. The problem is that when traditional communication channels like phone lines are down, it can take too much time to figure out where people need help. As more people connect on Facebook, we can share insights to help organizations understand who's in danger, who's safe, and where to send resources. This is part of creating safe communities, and we will keep doing more initiatives like this to help," announced Zuckerberg last week.

The company has tied up with organizations such as UNICEF, Red Cross, and the World Food Programme to help people in need. Facebook will soon establish formal processes with these organizations for responsibly sharing the datasets with other relevant communities.

"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," said Molly Jackman, Public Policy Research manager.

The social media giant will provide multiple types of maps during disaster response efforts, which will comprise aggregated location information people have chosen to share with Facebook.

In her blog, Jackman chalked out three map types which might come in handy during natural disasters: Location density maps, Movement maps, and Safety Check maps.

Location density maps show where people are located before, during, and after a disaster. Facebook will compare this information to historical records, like population estimates based on satellite images. Comparing these data sets can help response organizations understand areas impacted by a natural disaster.

Movement maps illustrate patterns of movement between different neighborhoods or cities over a period of several hours. By understanding these patterns, response organizations can better predict where resources will be needed, gain insight into patterns of evacuation, or predict where traffic will be most congested.

Safety Check maps are based on where community uses Safety Check to notify their friends and family that they are safe during a disaster. Facebook will use this de-identified data in aggregate to show where more or fewer people check in safe, which may help organizations understand where people are most vulnerable and where help is needed.

"We always overestimate what we can do in two years, and we underestimate what we can do in ten years." We may not have the power to create the world we want immediately, but we can all start working on the long term today. In times like these, the most important thing we at Facebook can do is develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us," Zuckerberg said in February.

In an effort to make it a global initiative, Facebook will make it possible for additional organizations and governments to participate in this program. All applications will be reviewed carefully by people at Facebook, including those with local expertise, Jackman said.

"We believe that our platform is a valuable source of information that can help response organizations serve people more efficiently and effectively. Ultimately, we hope this data helps communities have the information they need to recover and rebuild if disaster strikes," she said.

Last June, Facebook started helping people raise money through Fundraisers for an initial group of nonprofits directly on Facebook. This will come in handy during natural disasters too when people want to donate money to the victims.

[Featured Image by Noah Berger/AP Images]