City approves theater response study

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AURORA | City officials say they have a chance to quash criticisms of how the city’s first responders handled the July 20 theater shooting by conducting an after-action report.

Aurora City Council members on May 6 gave approval to a third-party public safety consultant firm to study the response by emergency personnel immediately after the shooting.

The study will cost about $249,000 to complete.

One focus of the study will be an analysis of when emergency crews responded that night and how they attempted to rescue shooting victims.

Because of the crush of people fleeing the theater, ambulance crews were not able to get to theater 9 where the shootings occurred until several minutes after the rampage. That forced Aurora police officers to rush some victims to the hospital in their police cruisers.

In a letter sent to 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler in April, City Attorney Charlie Richardson said he wants to discredit claims in the media that there was a 24-minute delayed response by the city’s fire department.

“We have the ability to quickly discount the false impressions by showing that life-saving activities commenced much quicker than what has been reported in the media,” Richardson wrote in the letter.

The study will also be helpful to share with other cities in the country that are interested in learning more about emergency responses to mass casualty situations, Richardson said in the letter. But there will be no mention in the study of alleged shooter James Holmes, his actions or the motivation for his actions, Richardson said.

TriData, a division of Virginia-based System Planning Corp, will report about activities related to the shooting beginning at 12:30 a.m. on July 20 and ending at midnight of July 22, the evening of the vigil.

The goal of the report is to identify best practices or inappropriate practices, areas for improvement and lessons learned, according to documents.

TriData estimates the report will require about 1,400 hours of employee time, or about 35 work weeks to complete, and the city will pay $248,927 for the report.

The city temporarily halted the contract in February after Brauchler said city officials should wait until the alleged theater shooter James Holmes’ arraignment to move forward with a study.

A court-ordered gag order was also in place when the city was initially considering the study months ago.

Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said he spoke with Brauchler and he’s confident that TriData can complete an after-action report without jeopardizing the criminal investigation and prosecution of Holmes.

“There were superheroes that night in the fire department, and emergency medical services and the police department and it’s important that we create a historical record of what occurred, and I’m sure there can be some lessons of what we can learn about it,” Oates said at the meeting.

TriData has conducted more than 50 “after action” studies following major incidents, including the mass shootings at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech University and Northern Illinois University.

Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan said the study will be the first step in helping Aurora’s first responders to heal.

“First responders haven’t had a chance to heal yet because their story hasn’t been told yet,” he said. “The only way their story can be told is by the approval of this contract and with this study.”

Council members at their meeting also called a special study session May 9 at 4:30 p.m., where they will decide how to regulate marijuana operations within the city.

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Aurora Sentinel reporter Brandon Johansson contributed to this report.