The first thing I did was log into Facebook. At the top of the app, it said, “Nepal Earthquake: Are you in the affected area?” I tapped yes. “Mark yourself as safe,” it said, and I hesitated before I hit yes again.
After all, how safe was I?
All disasters, I’ve learned, are different. Some you try to prepare for; others take you completely by surprise. Some last only a few moments; others extend for hours, days, weeks, the rest of your life.
I thought about what the hotel employee had said. Yes, I’d survived the quake. But the aftershocks continued, dozens of small and large rumblings that sent me running for open ground each time. I was alive, yes. But I was by no means safe.
Yet if I didn’t check in, what would my loved ones think? My friends would be greeted with a notification saying I hadn’t marked myself as safe—which would only make them more worried.
I checked in to reassure my loved ones, and the post—which is given higher priority in a user’s newsfeed than usual statuses—prompted many relieved comments and exhortations to stay safe. Some took me at my word and believed the danger had passed. One friend commented that, now that I was safe, “I bet it was so awesome to be there.” He was jealous that I’d put my survival skills to the test. “I've always wanted to be in a disaster/survival situation,” he wrote. “Especially being able to go home afterwords [sic].” It was a sentiment that was echoed a little more delicately by other friends and loved ones. Yeah, it sucks to go through this … but now that you’re safe, isn’t it kinda cool?
I was sleeping outside, waking every few minutes when the earth moved. I had no idea when flights would resume—if the airport was even functional. I was stuck in a city that still rocked and grumbled in its sleep; I had no idea if I’d be able to go home afterwards. And I was a lucky one. No, it wasn’t cool.
The Safety Check feature was originally developed by engineers in Japan who survived the devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Before Nepal, it was deployed during Typhoon Ruby (Hagupit) in the Philippines in December 2014 and Cyclone Pam in the West Pacific in March of this year.
“When disasters happen, people need to know their loved ones are safe,” Mark Zuckerberg wrote soon after the first quake hit. And they turn to Facebook to do so. In Nepal, about 8.5 million people were marked as safe, and more than 150 million friends were notified.
A friend of mine emailed to make sure I was really okay. As we corresponded, he said: “The Facebook ‘checked-in safe feature’ I never knew existed is just about my favorite feature on the site.”
But I still had doubts. What if something did happen to me? It weighed on my mind constantly. If I were killed, it would likely take a long time for my loved ones to find out, if they ever got confirmation at all. They would log in to my profile page and see no new updates—only that I had checked in as safe on April 25.