Facebook’s “Disaster Maps” to Aid in Disaster Resilience


SEATTLE — When a natural disaster occurs, urgency is crucial to aid programs trying to reach the affected people. However, these organizations often face difficulties in locating the displaced population in a timely manner. Facebook’s new initiative could be changing that.

Partnering with UNICEF, the Red Cross and the World Food Programme, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg just announced a new disaster relief aid titled, “Disaster Maps.” With the goal of creating a quicker response system among the world’s leading humanitarian agencies, Disaster Maps will utilize social media in order to quickly report crucial information. This program has the potential to save the lives of those most susceptible to the effects of natural disasters.

Traditional data-gathering methods are often hard to utilize, and typically have a significant time gap that hinders the efforts of humanitarian organizations. The objective of Disaster Maps is to eliminate that crucial time gap when disasters occur, helping humanitarian organizations coordinate their efforts in reaching those in need.

Facebook’s Disaster Maps has been in development for the past year, but the program began to take shape after the March 2017 floods in Peru. During these floods, Facebook revealed trends such as where people were located, where they were moving, and where they were checking in safe. Perhaps most significant is that this information was being updated in real time.

From the data collected during and after this incident, it was determined by both Facebook and humanitarian organizations which data sets would be most helpful when trying to aid in recovery after a natural disaster. It was decided that Disaster Maps should be composed of three data sets: population density, population movement and safety checks. All three of these will be constantly updated in real time.

Disaster Maps will work by using the “location services” feature on Facebook in order to assemble geolocation data of the affected population. This data will be aggregated and de-identified, meaning it will protect the privacy of users, a feature important to Facebook’s standards.

For those without access to Facebook or digital devices, local volunteers will be helping to add their input into these maps, leaving no one behind. This aspect of Disaster Maps ensures the safety of the poorest groups in need of aid.

Zuckerberg’s announcement of Disaster Maps also acts as an initiative to get other corporations involved in humanitarian efforts. Zuckerberg claims that these digital firms have an “ethical responsibility” to the world’s poor. He hopes that this program can showcase how humanitarian agencies and corporations can work together to achieve even greater goals.

While Facebook’s Disaster Maps is still awaiting its first live event, for now, it remains a potential breakthrough. With the world’s leading digital minds working with the top philanthropic agencies, the impact of this initiative is sure to be significant.

Kelly Hayes

Photo: Flickr


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