The National Park Service has ordered public information officers to release the names of those killed or injured in parks, clearing up recent confusion over the agency’s policy on accident victims.
A memorandum issued by the agency Tuesday instructed employees to release names, ages, and hometowns of those involved in park accidents, along with relevant details of the incidents. The names of those who have died, including juveniles, will also be released as long as their next of kin have been notified.
“Within the field there has been a collective sigh of relief that we have specific guidance now,” said Joan Anzelmo, public information officer for Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
Anzelmo had advocated releasing the information, saying it would help avoid the spread of rumors and misinformation.
“The public has so much interest in what happens in national parks,” she said. “When we can tell that story about what’s happening, it’s for the greater good.”
Clearing up confusion
The issue arose last year after the Salt Lake Tribune submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the names of victims of fatal accidents around Utah’s Lake Powell. A Washington FOIA officer told the newspaper the names would not be released because of privacy issues.
Soon afterward, the agency issued a memorandum telling regional park directors to withhold some personal information contained in motor vehicle accident reports.
Agency officials in Washington acknowledged that those two directives caused confusion in the field.
“Our goal was to get to the bottom of it and clarify the policy so we would have a consistent approach across the parks system,” said spokeswoman Elaine Sevy.
The memorandum issued Tuesday also detailed some situations in which accident details would not be released. Those include the names of juveniles charged with criminal offenses, the names of victims of sexual assaults and information on incidents where criminal action is still under investigation.