Why It's So Hard To Pin Down The Number Of Missing People After A Disaster

Mar 25, 2014

More than 100 people are considered missing after last weekend's devastating landslide near Oso, Washington. That number continues to fluctuate. Experts say it's often difficult for authorities to figure out how many people are unaccounted for in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster.

An aerial view of the landslide over SR 530 near Oso, Washington.
Credit WSDOT / Flickr

In a plane crash, there's usually a known number of people on board. In a catastrophe like the Snohomish County landslide, it's impossible to know how many people were affected. Some homeowners were likely out of town. Some may have had house guests. Some people were simply driving through the area and got caught up.

Kim Lippert is with the Oregon Office of Emergency Management. She says that uncertainty is common with any natural disaster and that some people may have be counted twice.

"Often when people are actually safe they may be so overwhelmed by the trauma of the situation that they may reunite with their families but not circle back with authorities to let them know that they are okay," says Lippert.

Lippert says once the initial shock has worn off, people who think they might be considered missing should contact emergency management officials. That will help make sure rescuers aren't looking for someone who is actually safe.

To report a missing or a located person, call the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management at 425-388-5088.

Copyright 2014 Northwest News Network.