Tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of the great San Francisco earthquake. It's a suitable occaision to recall what Stewart Brand wrote after the 1989 earthquake, in a Whole Earth essay titled "What Rescuers Learned." The whole essay is sadly available nowhere online, but these bullet points (logged by Gmoke in an earlier WC post) pretty well sum it up:
Right after an earthquake, nobody's in charge. You self-start, or nothing happens
If you can smell gas, turn it off.
After an earthquake, further building collapse is not the main danger. Fire is.
When you see a fire starting, do ANYTHING to stop it, right now.
In a collapsed building, assume there are people trapped alive. Locate them, let them know everything will be done to get them out.
Searching a building, call out, "Anybody in here? Anybody need help? Shout or bang on something if you can hear me."
Give people wyho are trapped all the information you've got, and enlist their help. treat them not as helpless victims but as an exceptionally motivated part of the rescue team.
Join a team or start a team. Divide up the tasks. Encourage leadership to emerge.
Most action in a disaster is imitative. Most effective leadership is by example.
Bystanders make the convenient assumption that everything is being taken care of by the people already helping. That's seldom accurate.
If you want to help, ask! If you want to be helped, ask!
Volunteers are always uncertain whether they're doing the right thing. They need encouragement - from professionals, from other volunteers, from passers-by.
It's worth noting, as well, that self-starting isn't just some great idea for wealthy folks with a lot of expensive tools lying around: ordinary people are the best, and often the only, first-responders wherever disaster strikes. Helping each other without permission from the proper authorities is what it's all about.
UPDATE: Stewart Brand has graciously agreed to let WorldChanging make the entire essay available online here. Thanks, Stewart!