Facebook is launching disaster maps, an initiative that aims to provide information about people’s locations in disaster or conflict-torn areas. The social media giant aims to provide certain organizations the data they need to deliver aid faster and more efficiently. Some of the organizations Facebook collaborated with in this endeavor are the UNICEF, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the World Food Programme. During the development of the disaster maps, these organizations provided the necessary feedback in order to conceptualize the most effective formats of disaster maps. In addition, the concerned organizations also identified which the types of data are most helpful during times of disaster and conflict.
One of the key benefits of knowing the approximate location of individuals in disaster-stricken and conflict-torn areas is that the organizations concerned with organizing rescue and relief operations know where to deploy rescue personnel and resources like food, water, and medical supplies. In order to produce the disaster maps, Facebook is using aggregated and deidentified location data from its users to build three types of disaster maps. The first type of disaster map is the location density maps, which show the location of people before, during, and after a disaster. Facebook collects the location data from the users who reside in identified disaster areas and compare this information to both historical population records in the area and the satellite image of the area’s geography. The density maps are very useful for identifying the areas where people in need are located and the areas likely to have been the worst hit by a natural disaster.
In contrast, movement maps look into the patterns of movement made by people over the span of several hours. The data from this map is useful when identifying the patterns of evacuation and knowing which areas are congested with vehicular traffic. For the latter reason, data from the movement maps can be useful in identifying routes where rescue teams can enter disaster areas faster. Last but not the least is the safety check map. This is an offshoot of the Safety Check feature that Facebook had in place for years but, this time, the data from this feature is laid down on a map. The resulting map shows the location of affected and vulnerable people, which in turn helps organizations mobilize their resources on these specific locations. Later on, Facebook plans to give more organizations and concerned government agencies access to these data. However, the social media giant claims that before the access to these maps is granted, it will first assess the capacity of the organization to act on the said data and respect the privacy standards set by Facebook.
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