1. Contact your people.
1. When a disaster strikes, everyone who hears about it immediately starts worrying about friends and relations who might have been victims. As soon as you’re safe and reasonably comfortable, get word out that you’re okay. Do it even if you were miles from the event. Your people can’t be sure you were safely far away from the event until you tell them so.
Go easy on the phone lines. Don’t tie up the public pay phones with nonessential yakking. Also, if you’re reporting that everyone in your travel group is okay, make a list of their names and contact info and phone/e-mail/IM it to someone who’ll pass it around back home.
Here’s the general rule: Collect names. Swap lists. Publicize your results. And while you’re at it, keep an eye out for potential side-channels. Think like the Internet: route around the damage.
2. Beware of rumors.
People will be desperately trying to pull together a picture of the situation. They’ll grasp at scraps of information, theorize light-years beyond the data, inflate the importance of trifles, and find connections where none exist.
By all means, keep your head up and your ear to the ground. Good information is priceless. But if there’s ever a moment to look skeptically at unsourced information, this is it.
(An amusing project: if you’re stranded by transit shutdowns and have nothing to do, try collecting reports, rumors, and speculations. Don’t pass them on, but do write them down, because once consensus reality has sorted out What Really Happened That Day, they’ll be much harder to remember, and people won’t want to cop to them. Trot them out as a curiosity a few weeks or months later.)
3. Brace yourself: the idiots are coming.
Over the next few weeks, you’re going to get hit with a spate of false alarms. It’s because everyone’s on edge, which means false alarms will produce exaggerated responses. Some sh*t-for-brains types find that amusing. If you stay calm, they’ll die down faster.
Another thing to watch out for are scammers taking up collections on behalf of the victims. These guys always pop up in the wake of major disasters. For example, a bunch of scammers toured small-town America, taking collections that never reached the victims, after the Titanic went down.
4. Hang in there. Take care of yourselves.
See also: jump bags.
And: Encoding emergency contact info on your cellphone.