We're coming up on the 15th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in American history. In 2001 most people didn't use cellphones, so if you knew someone who worked in or around the World Trade Center, all you could do was wait. Names of people who were unaccounted for scrolled across the bottom of television screens for weeks.
Unfortunately, terrorist attacks continue to occur on a regular basis throughout the world. And it's not just terrorist attacks we have to worry about. There are also floods, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes and other natural disasters.
But thanks to Facebook, at least we have a way of checking on our friends and family living in the areas where these catastrophes are happening. The social media site is making this feature more accessible.
"Safety Check" is a Facebook function that allows people to mark themselves as safe during emergencies. When an earthquake shook Italy or when tornadoes tore through Indiana, citizens were able to notify all of their Facebook friends at once to say they were safe. If someone on your Friend list marks themselves safe, you receive a Facebook notification.
If your Facebook profile says you live in an area where an emergency has occurred, the social media site will send you a notification to ask if you're safe. This feature started in October 2014 and at first it was only used for people near natural disasters. It expanded to include terrorist attacks when ISIS attacked Paris in November 2015.
This well-intended notification system has faced some criticism because Facebook decides what incidents are worthy of a safety check. A suicide bombing occurred in Beirut around the same time as the Paris attacks. It was their worst attack since the Lebanese Civil war, but Facebook did not set up a Safety Check.
The decision makers at Facebook seemed to take this constructive criticism very seriously and they want to shift the responsibility to their users. They plan to let communities trigger a "Safety Check" when an emergency occurs in their area. They have also been testing a feature that will let people report and share catastrophes in their area.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg says he also wants to create a safety check feature for suicide prevention. If someone were to post about thoughts of suicide, members of their community would be able to intervene.
Zuckerburg says that Facebook will remain a technology company that only facilitates the creation and sharing of content instead of producing their own media. The social media site already has a notification system for helping find abducted children. If a child goes missing in your area you will see an Amber Alert in your newsfeed.
Last Monday Zuckerburg announced the desire to make these changes to Safety Check but he did not reveal a date for when the improved feature would be available. Keep checking the Happening Now section for updates on this topic.