Recent wildfires in Northern California have once again sparked multiple posts on Facebook by people desperately trying to find family members in the affected areas who they haven’t been able to contact.
Jessica Tunis told the AP that she put her mother’s name and picture up on Facebook as a plea for help, after she heard her say “I’m going to die” over the phone as her home caught fire in the Journey’s End Mobile Home Park. Tunis said that she was initially concerned about making a post. “At first, I don’t know what I was thinking, but I wanted to respect my mother’s privacy… I didn’t want to spread her all over the place,” she said.
Tunis’ post gained over 100 comments, from friends and strangers, giving prayers and support, suggestions of places to look, with some even going out to look for her mother themselves. “I’ve had people going to shelters for me because of Facebook,” Tunis said.
Her post was one of many seen on Facebook after the fires, with family unable to trace down their loved ones, hoping they were only in an area with downed communication lines, and not one of those who did not survive. Approximately 200 people were reported missing to the authorities in Northern California.
Messages on Facebook searching for missing people are relatively common after natural disasters. Similar posts were seen after the recent hurricanes Harvey, Rita and Maria, and after the shooting in Las Vegas last week. Facebook also has its own feature, Safety Check, for those in affected areas to tell everyone that they are safe. Safety Check was first introduced after the tsunami in Japan of 2014, and was primarily used for natural disasters. But after the Paris terror attacks of 2015, Mark Zuckerberg deemed it would also be used in “many other important conflicts.”