There’s a feature on Facebook not many people are aware of. The only way you would have used it is if you are near an area experiencing a natural disaster. This feature is called “Safety Check” and it’s a way to tell your friends and family that you’re safe in a situation such as a hurricane, earthquake or tsunami.

This safety feature made its debut in 2011 when 30-foot tidal waves began crashing into the shores of Japan due to an earthquake. With cities and nuclear power plants underwater, Facebook became a tool for many to find out if their loved ones were safe. CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled this new feature, and it has given social media a new purpose.

For the first time, Facebook used their “Safety Check” feature for a human-caused disaster. On Nov. 13 the feature was activated during the Paris attacks. Though this was not a natural disaster, more than four million people marked themselves safe, relieving their families of worry.

The way this feature works is simple. It doesn’t alert authorities in any way, it’s just a way to know if someone is safe. If you’re in an area that is near a natural disaster, or now, an area under attack, you receive a push notification in your Facebook app.

This notification gives you the option to mark yourself “safe,” “unsafe” or “not in the area.” Its purpose is to only notify people that you are safe, it’s not an emergency system to call for help. This feature also allows you to see if friends around you are safe and marks friends you’re with as “safe.”

Though this helped many, Facebook still received negative feedback asking why Beirut, the capital and largest city in Lebanon, didn’t have this feature activated when it was attacked, but Paris did. As a new product from Facebook, there is a trial and error period, and that’s what we’re currently seeing. I don’t think Facebook should get too much criticism for this, seeing as how the feature wasn’t meant for human-caused disasters in the first place.

Other people have complained to Facebook, saying that they should be able to activate it themselves.

To me, this would defeat the purpose of the feature. To have this activated shows how serious a situation is. It shows that people are in danger. If people are allowed to activate it themselves, there would probably be a lot of false alarms, and it would lose its importance.

With the recent attacks and threats from terrorist groups like ISIS, I think this feature was used in a productive way. But when I thought about it more, it made me wonder if something like this could be used on college campuses.

Far too often today, we hear about shootings in schools across the country. In a state of emergency on a campus not only are students in a state of panic and fear, but parents and guardians are as well. This type of system would be a productive addition to the security of our campus, but it probably doesn’t cross the minds of many people seeing our history in that area.

I feel safe on campus, but having a feature like this would me feel more aware of my surroundings if there were an emergency. Like Facebook has done with big cities around the world, maybe school systems like SUNY could come up with their own system just for the schools and bring a big idea to a smaller scale.

Email Katie LaPorte at katie.laporte@cardinalpointsonline.com

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