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The UK Emergency Planning Society has expressed solidarity with its counterparts in Brussels and praised Facebook for activating its Safety Check system.

The EPS – the professional association for those working in the resilience and emergency response sector – expressed sympathy for the victims and support for their counterparts in Belgium.

Tony Thompson, the Chair of the EPS, said: “Our thoughts go out to the victims and relatives of the terrorist atrocity in Brussels, and all those affected by it. We would also express our solidarity with all our colleagues working for civil protection and all emergency responders in Belgium.

“Our members will continue to play their role in keeping the UK safe – the public must not be intimidated by such attacks but be defiant and vigilant.”

Tony Thompson, a former British Transport Police Superintendent, said that EPS members, in their professional capacity, had exercised regularly and planned for the type of multiple terrorist attacks witnessed in Paris and now Brussels, with many being responders to the real thing in incidents such the 7/7 bombings in London.

He said: “The methods used by the terrorists in Brussels are not unknown to emergency responders in the UK, and we have often practiced our response to it. Last week for example, many EPS members were involved in the huge Unified Response exercise, which replicated responding to mass casualties. “

He went on to express thanks to Facebook for promptly activating its ‘Safety Check’ system for Brussels. When a disaster strikes and someone logs into Facebook while being in the affected location, a screen pops up, saying that you are in the area affected by the incident. It then asks if you are safe and offers two buttons. The green one says ‘I’m Safe’; when clicked, a notification then goes out to friends and relatives and a post is published on your timeline, letting people know you are safe.

Facebook Japan introduced the forerunner of Safety Check, called Disaster Message Board, after the Japan earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. Due to its popularity, the technology was then sent for full development to an Israeli R&D team, who came up with the simpler Safety Check system.

Tony Thompson said: “This system showed its’ worth in the attack on Paris: some 4.1 million people checked in with friends and relatives using the Safety Check feature, and around 360 million people received automatic messages through it from friends in Paris who had marked themselves as safe.

“A problem in horrific events such as these, is that – understandably – millions of people flood the land line and mobile phone sphere trying to check if loved ones are ok. In 7/7 in London for example, there was enormous pressure on the mobile phone system which in some cases collapsed.

“Facebook’s initiative enables millions to be given a quick ‘I’m safe’ to all their family and contacts with one click. It is a rapid reassurance tool that takes a huge burden off the phone networks, Casualty Bureaux and the emergency responders.”

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