Oso missing list: Authorities say law may require secrecy

by: Essex Porter Updated:

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Incident commanders at the Oso mudslide have raised the issue of legal reasons for not releasing the names on their list of the missing and unaccounted for.  They’ve been keeping the list secret since the slide swept through the Steelhead neighborhood on Saturday morning.

“I need to understand legally if we can do that or not,” Snohomish County Emergency Management Director John Pennington said on Thursday night.

KIRO 7 checked with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office and the state’s emergency operation center. While experts there wanted time to research the issue, none could immediately think of a legal reason to withhold the names of the missing.

 “To my knowledge, there is no legal reason under public records laws not to release that information,” said Attorney Bruce Johnson, a leading national expert in media law.

 Eric Holdeman has more than a decade of experience in emergency management for the state of Washington and King County.

 “Certainly, you have the issue of not wanting to release the names of the dead until next of kin are informed,” Holdeman said. “I would think it would be very helpful in trying to figure out who is actually missing by releasing the names and clarifying that,”

 Now an emergency management consultant, Holdeman believes in “crowdsourcing” in cases like this -- leveraging social media to gather information about the missing.

 “Let's have everyone be part of the solution and that includes individual citizens and residents that can contribute, in this case, it’s contributing information,” he said. 

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