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[en] Galaxy catalogs are essential for efficient searches of the electromagnetic counterparts of extragalactic gravitational wave (GW) signals with highly uncertain localization. We show that one can efficiently catalog galaxies within a short period of time with 1–2 m class telescopes such as the Palomar Transient Factory (PTF) or MDM, in response to an observed GW signal from a compact binary coalescence. We find that a rapid galaxy survey is feasible on the relevant time scale of week, with a maximum source distance of Mpc and a sky area of 100 deg2. With PTF-like telescopes, even 1 day is sufficient for such a survey. This catalog can then be provided to other telescopes to aid electromagnetic follow-up observations to find kilonovae from binary coalescences, as well as other sources. We consider Hα observations, which track the star formation rate (SFR) and are therefore correlated with the rate of compact binary mergers. Hα surveys are also able to filter out galaxies that are farther away than the maximum GW source distance. Rapid galaxy surveys that follow GW triggers could achieve ∼90% completeness with respect to SFR, which is currently unavailable. This will significantly reduce the required effort and enhance the immediate availability of catalogs compared to possible future all-sky surveys.