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How Aurora, IL, Leveraged Data Analytics to Manage a Mass Shooting

How Aurora, IL, Leveraged Data Analytics to Help Manage a Mass Shooting
How Aurora, IL, Leveraged Data Analytics to Help Manage a Mass Shooting
data-channelsAurora was able to manage communications with its residents during a mass shooting, and stay on top of hundreds of other data sources that were reporting the shooting nationally PerformanceThe City was able to keep a continuous finger on the pulse of things during the shooting and in its aftermath as the community recovered usersWithin a few weeks, the City succeeded in helping the community raise $500,000 for the victims' families: a tremendous success from a tragic incident


In February 2019, a mass shooting rocked Aurora, Illinois, ultimately leaving five dead and six injured, including five police officers. Within a matter of minutes, the shooting went viral, making local and national headlines. In the wake of the shooting, over 300 first responders from 30 different agencies descended on Aurora. The City was faced with two main challenges: first, ensuring that it was getting the most accurate information to its community; and second, understanding from a national standpoint how the shooting and the City were being perceived. Read the full case study to understand how Aurora used Zencity to accomplish this and more.


On Friday, February 15th, the City of Aurora, Illinois became “another ‘hashtag city’; another mass shooting in America,” describes Clayton Muhammad, Director Community Relations/Public Information. The City’s police department received its first 911 call reporting an active shooter at the Henry Pratt Company mid-day. Within a matter of one minute, a second call came over the dispatch that the first of what would be five police officers had been taken down. Within ten minutes, the news had hit social media and was going viral.

The Challenge

Managing Communications During a Time of Crisis

The shooting, which left five Henry Pratt employees dead and injured six, including five police officers, left the community reeling and put Aurora in national headlines. In the wake of the shooting, over 300 first responders from 30 different state, county, and federal enforcement agencies descended on Aurora and began their own reporting on the incident.

The city was faced with two main challenges:

    1. Ensuring that it was getting the most accurate information to its community;
    2. Understanding from a national standpoint, how the shooting and the city were being perceived.


The Mayor of Aurora’s executive team turned to Zencity to weed through the noise, communicate with their residents and community more effectively, and help their community heal.

The Solution

The Zencity Platform

Within a few hours of the shooting, the City set up a special project on the Zencity platform to specifically follow social media and news data that related to the shooting. Zencity’s technology automatically aggregated data points from city-specific sources like social media and local news. This included data from both official, city-owned channels, and data from non-official, non-city run sources. In parallel, the platform cast a wide-net for mentions of the City of Aurora on other social media, broadcast media, and web sources.

the zencity platform
This graph displays the volume of conversation specifically about the shooting across all data sources, as tracked over the course of a week.

With the use of advanced AI, the data was automatically filtered, sorted and categorized to identify commentary and reports about the shooting. The next layer of analysis tagged each of these comments with a negative, positive, or neutral score so the city could track discourse trends both in the city amongst residents and nationally.

All together, the platform visualized the data by volume of conversation at any given period of time, data source, category, and more, enabling Aurora’s executive team to understand who was talking about the shooting, how it was being reported, and the community impact of the shooting over time.

The Data

Using AI for Effective Communication During a Time of Crisis

Zencity’s platform allowed Aurora to look at a multitude of data sources at once and understand both local and national responses to the shooting. Tracking all of the media coverage of the shooting in one platform allowed the City to affirm and confirm both the gravity of the events which had unfolded in the hours prior, as well as understand how the shooting was being reported across the country. After the situation was neutralized, Zencity played an essential role when the Chief of Police held her first press conference where she had to find a way to communicate effectively to her community about the incident.

The platform enabled Aurora to see that other public safety groups were sharing information that generally would only have been shared by the City’s Police Department.

  The city found itself in a situation where the 30 different agencies responding to the shooting were holding their own press conferences with their own information rather than sharing Aurora’s city information. From a public safety perspective, it was essential for the City of Aurora to be the primary source of information for its residents and surrounding communities.

The realization that the City was not its residents’ primary information source led it to proactively communicate that the City of Aurora was the official and most accurate information source about the shooting, and that residents should turn to the City for assistance and the facts.

  This is something the city had never had to deal with before, nor had it occurred to the city during past crisis events that this would be necessary.

Putting the Data to Work

Helping the Community Heal in the Aftermath of the Shooting

After the immediate threat of the shooting was no longer present, the City was able to turn its concerns from safety to helping its community heal and recover. One of the key elements of the City’s approach to managing community relationships after this tragic event was using Zencity to help keep a continuous finger on the pulse of things. Zencity’s word cloud, for example, helped the City see a shift in discourse trends among residents from focusing on the mass shooting to phrases like “Aurora Strong” and “Fundraiser.”  Moreover, the City saw from the platform that within a week, the biggest concern in the community was regarding the five officers who had sustained injuries.

popular words
These two word clouds show the change in community discourse over time – shifting from discussions on the shooting to concerns of recovery, injured officers, and healing as a city.

When the City identified that the community was focused on volunteer efforts to help officers, it made a decision to leverage the goodwill and unity of its residents to focus on those most in need – the victims’ families. The City knew it had the resources to care for its officers, but saw the victims’ families suffering – so through messaging and communication with residents, the city shifted its energy to focus on assisting those families in need.

Within a few weeks, the City succeeded in helping the community to raise $500,000 for the victims’ families: a tremendous success from a tragic incident.


The City of Aurora joined the ranks of too many U.S. cities who have made national headlines due to a mass shooting. During that shooting, it responded within minutes to secure its residents and neutralize the situation. Nonetheless, the shooting resulted in lives lost and officers who sustained serious gun shot injuries. And unsurprisingly, the shooting made national headlines, with the proliferation of social media contributing heavily to both the publicity of the event and the sharing of many news sources that were neither the City nor the Police Department. Using technology, the City was able to stay on top of this swell of information, respond accordingly, and direct residents towards official and accurate news reports

Moreover, the City used AI to keep the pulse of its community both in real-time and in the weeks following, as well as to understand how the community was responding. By doing so, it also leveraged the power of its residents in the healing and recovery process for the City, refocusing the energy of its community from grief to support and resilience.


Clayton Muhammad

Since the shooting in Aurora, Zencity has become part of our tapestry. It’s a very powerful tool in the decision-making process because it helps the Mayor laser focus in on the concerns of the community and it helps us keep the pulse of the community.

Clayton Muhammad

Director Community Relations/Public Information, Aurora, IL


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