One of the biggest problems in a disaster is the handling of so-called "health and welfare" traffic or "disaster welfare inquiries." The ARRL-recommended precedence for this type of traffic is W or "Welfare," and refers to either an inquiry as to the health and welfare of an individual in the disaster area or an advisory from the disaster area that indicates all is well. The influx of W traffic into the disaster area may be large, and NTS may be called upon to assist with this overload. The NTS policy with respect to the handling of W traffic is to handle as much of it as possible, but to adhere to its precedence. Higher-precedence traffic must be handled first, W traffic only when the circuit is free. Routine (R) traffic is not normally handled by an NTS net operating under disaster conditions, because usually they more than have their hands full with higher precedence, but should a disaster circuit be temporarily available, there is no reason why it cannot be handled until the circuit again becomes occupied with higher-precedence traffic.
In a widespread disaster situation, it is seldom possible to handle all the Welfare traffic with efficiency and dispatch. Sometimes, in fact, such traffic piles up alarmingly, to the extent that much of it is never delivered. There are a number of ways in which this can be controlled, but few of them are consistent with public relations objectives. The best way to handle such situations is to maintain close contact with the Red Cross or the Salvation Army as appropriate, since most inquiries are handled through these organizations. Civil preparedness organizations also can often set up procedures for handling such traffic. In the past, special RTTY, ASCII, AMTOR and packet circuits have been established with great success. Until or unless means for handling such traffic are established, it is usually wisest not to accept it from the general public, or to do so only with an explicit understanding that chances of delivery are not guaranteed.
I will accept credible Health and Welfare message traffic inquiries and put them out on tonight's local net, for relay into the National Traffic Network. Please be brief but specific, including who you are and who you are looking for. Please give the details most likely to find the person you are looking for given the dire conditions in many areas.
I will send you back an acknowledgment that your message has been accepted--please understand that health and welfare traffic goes after all emergency and priority traffic into and out of the area, and ultimately depends on their being a receiving ham radio operator who can--without additional risk to their own safety--contact the person you are seeking out. In other words, hams will do their best, but in these circumstances that might not be enough. You should still contact The Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and any other public service organization that you are pointed to. They have their own infrastructure for passing messages and reaching people--and the people you are looking for may not be where you last knew them to be; they might have made it to a shelter but be unable to make outbound contact.
Comments to this post will be screened, in case people want to leave message traffic here.
EDIT: I will be filling out this form for each message http://www.arrl.org/FandES/field/forms/radiogram2.pdf . If you can, please try to make your message fit.