Facebook has announced that it will be sharing important information with organisations responding to disasters, to allow them to do so much more efficiently.
One of the most important factors after a disaster has struck an area is the access that response organisations have to accurate information. The problem is that this information may take longer to reach them, making it more difficult for them to react in the right areas. After a disaster, most traditional communications are often unavailable, and so understanding where help is needed is a challenge.
Facebook tracks a huge amount of data and this is something it is often criticised about. But the company has found that it can use this data for good.
In a recent blog post, Molly Jackman, Public Policy Research Manager at Facebook explained that it “can help response organizations paint a more complete picture of where affected people are located so they can determine where resources — like food, water and medical supplies — are needed and where people are out of harm’s way.”
To do so, Facebook is introducing disaster maps “that use aggregated, de-identified Facebook data” to help “fill in the blanks” when it comes to the information that response organisations can get while responding to a disaster. Facebook created these maps while working with organisations like UNICEF, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the World Food Programme, and others, in order to identify the most important information that they need while responding to a situation.
Jackman says that the company will be providing three types of maps with information for organisations.
- 1. Location density maps – These maps “show where people are located before, during and after a disaster.” Facebook can compare this data to historical records or other information like satellite images. They have been created to give a better understanding of the areas that have been impacted.
- 2. Movement maps – These maps “illustrate patterns of movement between different neighborhoods or cities over a period of several hours.” Response organisations can predict where resources are needed, understand patterns of evacuation, and/or predict where traffic may be congested the most.
- 3. Safety Check maps – These maps are “based on where [the] community uses Safety Check to notify their friends and family that they are safe during a disaster.” Facebook aggregates “de-identified” data to show response organisations where more or fewer people check in safe. With this information, organisations may be able to understand “where people are most vulnerable and where help is needed.”
This move is certainly an important way to use Facebook‘s treasure trove of data, and it’s a great start. However, the company needs to first make sure that its datasets are being used in the right way. That’s why it is being shared with trusted organisations first – UNICEF, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the World Food Programme. As Jackman explains,
We are working with these organizations to establish formal processes for responsibly sharing the datasets with others.
In time, more organisations and more governments will be added to the roster; eventually others will also be able to apply for access as well.