An independent report on the 2012 theater shooting that killed 12 and injured 63 others highlights communication problems between firefighters and police officers surging into the area but says first responders should be proud of their efforts to treat the wounded.
The report commissioned by the city of Aurora contains few new specific details about the July 20, 2012, shooting at the Century 16 theater, which was packed with moviegoers watching a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises when a lone gunman opened fire.
The report specifically highlighted the actions of a single Aurora police officer who also was trained as a paramedic, saying his actions were "critically important" to saving lives because he switched from his law enforcement duties to EMS actions, triaging victims from inside the individual movie theaters, said USA Today.
"The combined actions of Aurora police, fire and public safety communications saved all the injured who had suffered survivable wounds. Police apprehended (the suspect) immediately upon arrival at the scene," the report concludes. "These optimum results were obtained thanks to many individual police officers and firefighters making sound emergency decisions under great pressure. Overall, there probably could not have been much better deployment and results than the Aurora police achieved."
Other key items in the report include, says USA Today:
• Police officers flooding into the theater left their cars parked all over the area, making it hard for ambulances and fire trucks to get close to victims. Police officers drove 27 victims to hospitals. Ambulances carried 20. Experts said the decision to have cops take people to the hospital saved at least two lives, and that using police cars to rush shooting victims into surgery may need to become accepted practice. One victim ran to a nearby hospital, the first patient to arrive.
• As first responders rushed in, the event's magnitude was not clearly understood by anyone: "As a result, there was a substantial delay in summoning adequate EMS resources and deploying them effectively and efficiently."
• Police officers couldn't move other officers' cars to improve access, because the keys are all different.
• Emergency dispatchers didn't know how to use a special computer system and software that permits different radio systems to "talk" to each other. Federal officials have repeatedly identified that as a problem in other major incidents, and many police and fire agencies have bought systems specifically designed to be interoperable during major incidents. The report called the system used in Aurora difficult and complicated to use in a crisis, and recommended simplifying it.
• A paramedic who used a pre-packaged tourniquet — which aren't commonly carried by EMS workers but have become widely used by the military — saved the life of a shooting victim.
• Repeated disaster and mass-casualty practices helped police officers from across the Denver area work together smoothly during most of the incident, although there were scattered instances of miscommunication and overlap.
• The city's police, fire and EMS departments lacked a comprehensive "active shooter" policy, which meant police officers sometimes wouldn't let ambulances into the area because no one knew whether the scene was safe. After the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in the nearby suburbs of Denver, many police departments adopted policies in which officers don't wait for backup but instead rush to confront the shooter immediately.
• Police officers should be given more medical training, and carry special kits designed to stanch blood flow, rather than waiting for paramedics.
• Police officers who responded to the initial shooting and who were traumatized and overwhelmed were required by policy to file written reports before going home, and many were called in to help provide security for President Obama's visit, further exhausting them.
• Emergency dispatchers managed to answer 95% of 911 calls within 10 seconds, but their supervisor never came in, and learned incident details on the morning news. That meant "employee relations in the communications center were affected for months after the incident because the belief spread that while the telecommunicators worked hard under great stress to handle the crisis, the senior managers slept through it."
• Emergency dispatchers didn't have cellphone numbers of police officers working the scene, and with radio transmissions chaotic and not always connecting, "members of the theater audience had better cell phone communications with each other than did police and fire personnel."