This work is concerned with the problem of efficient and intelligent message forwarding in wireless networks. This problem arises in many diverse scenarios within ad-hoc networks and especially networks formed during and in the aftermath of a disaster in which infrastructure-based communication systems have been damaged or completely destroyed. Within this setting, mobile devices need to support critical message exchanges in order to offer user reassurance and aid first responders' search-and-rescue operations. Notably, the dissemination of alert messages has to be done in a way that achieves sufficient dissemination while ensuring network longevity. Under the proposed explore and exploit (EnE) framework, this paper derives innovative networking heuristics that capitalizes on locally-calculated metrics (including the Local Connectivity (LC) centrality metric) to make message forwarding/replication decisions. The proposed heuristics exhibit excellent features with regards to the aforementioned performance objectives and are shown to greatly outperform current popular alternative solutions.