NEWS

App for Locating Friends After A Disaster Goes Live on Facebook

By Carlton Purvis

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has launched two new apps that allow people to create emergency preparedness plans and track the status of Facebook friends in disaster zones.

The apps, bReddi and Project: Lifeline went live on Facebook recently, coinciding with the start of hurricane season. Project: Lifeline took first place in the ASPR/Health 2.0 Developer Challenge.

“People who have friends or relatives they can rely on for help are healthier and live longer than those who don’t. Every disaster has the potential to impact health, so having people you can depend on for help is especially important during a disaster,” says the HHS Web site.

HHS says the apps can help people to identify their lifelines – “Facebook friends a user can count on, and who agree to check on them in an emergency, supply them with shelter, food, or other necessities, or provide the user’s social network with an update about their situation” – ahead of an emergency.

“After disasters, a tremendous number of people use Facebook to post and share information, so developing a Facebook app that would help people establish social connections they’ll need in an emergency seemed like a natural way to enhance community and individual resilience,” said Dr. Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response for HHS, in a press release.

Both apps were winners of a challenge by HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) calling on software developers and the emergency response communities to come up with a Facebook app that could support individual community resilience. bReddi is an app that guides the user through building an emergency preparedness plan.

Project: Lifeline can be used to determine a person’s whereabouts during and after a disaster:

The Project: Lifeline interface displays the members of your social graph. From within Project: Lifeline you may report a friend "missing," which will update the interface to reflect that. After your friend has been reported missing, Project: Lifeline will attempt to contact them—along with any "lifelines" they have registered—and they or any of their lifelines can update the interface to authoritatively declare that your friend is safe and well. If your friend does not respond and none of their lifelines are able to locate them, Lifeline will help you both get the word out to their larger social graph and coordinate efforts to support them. Throughout the entire process, every member of your friend's social network will be able to come to the interface and view trustworthy, up-to-date information on your friend's status, allowing you to focus on what you need to do to support them.

Its creators say the app was designed with large-scale disasters in mind and that the best lifelines are close friends and family members who are likely to know the user’s whereabouts if something were to happen to them.

Both apps can be accessed from HHS ASPR at www.phe.gov/lifeline/ or directly through Facebook.


photo by NASA Earth Observatory/flickr
 

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