Best Response to a Crisis

Hospital deftly handles media frenzy surrounding ‘biggest mass shooting in American history’

Fifty urgent media requests before dawn. A presidential visit. Dozens of media teams camped out in a nearby park. The Children’s Hospital Colorado media team controlled the chaos of July 20, 2012.

Response to the Aurora Theatre Shooting - Logo


The nurse house supervisor was on the Children’s Hospital Colorado media pager at 1 a.m. on Friday, July 20: “Someone shot up a movie theater. We’re ready for mass casualties,” she said.

At 12:30 that night, an individual had entered an Aurora, Colo., theater and begun shooting into a packed audience.

Nine minutes later, the gunman had killed 12 people and wounded another 70, “the most victims of any mass shooting in American history,” according to the CBS News website.

Children’s Hospital Colorado received six of the victims. Fortunately, its media team had written a crisis plan that leaned heavily on quick response to media requests and on social media:

  • The first priority was internal communications and scripts for operators, security, staff, and hospital and foundation boards, along with social media response.
  • The media team created a separate Communications Incident Command Center to discuss internal and external communication strategy, write messages, field media calls, set up interviews, and provide online content and social media presence. Emphasis was placed on the importance of contacting the media pager, and on a communications strategy regarding how to talk to kids about the tragedy.
  • The first media team person on the scene served as PIO in the Incident Command Center.
  • Each member of the media team had a 24/7 media pager.
  • Three to five media relations experts responded to media requests in the first 72 hours.
  • The team updated social media continually with advice to families about talking to children.
  • Hospital security paged the media team each time a reporter stepped into the hospital.

Six weeks after the shooting, the media team had handled more than 250 media requests. Overall, 6,420 stories mentioned or included Children’s Hospital Colorado. The hospital’s own story posted to its website on how to talk to children about the shooting got 5,359 clicks. Its Facebook post on talking to children received 5,793 clicks and 195 shares (its most shared post to date).

For this speedy, nimble, in-depth media response to a terrifying tragedy, the media relations team at Children’s Hospital Colorado is the clear winner of the Best Response to a Crisis category in Ragan’s 2013 Health Care PR and Marketing Awards.

The Children’s Hospital Colorado media team comprises Amanda Brannum, Robin Doerr, Natalie Goldstein, Melissa Vizcarra, and Elizabeth Whitehead. Congratulations!

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