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As students go back to school, first responders prepare for the unthinkable

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TRAINING PAYS OFF – From left, Dickson Police Lieutenant Chad Fussell and Captain Todd Christian talk with Schools Safety Coordinator Stephen Phelps about ways active shooter training will help to keep Benton County Schools safe. Said Phelps, “Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our students.”
PREPARATION IS KEY – Led by Dickson Police Captain Todd Christian, Benton County first responders learn about ways to protect and defend against an active shooter event in schools.
BACK TO SCHOOL – Administrators at Camden Elementary School welcome back the first busload of students at CES on Monday morning, Aug. 1.

Monday, Aug. 1, marked the first day of school for most students in Benton County. Administrators, teachers, and staff at schools in Big Sandy, Holladay, and Camden have been working hard to be ready to welcome students to the start of a new school year. Everyone hopes for a safe and successful year for all involved.
As we have learned from far too many school shootings nationally over the past 25 years, hoping for safety is no longer enough. On July 21, less than two weeks before the start of school, more than 50 first responders from various agencies in Benton County received training on how to respond to an active shooter incident. Participants included personnel from Benton County law enforcement agencies, fire departments, the Benton County Rescue Squad, EMS, TWRA officers, NBF State Park Rangers, and school officials.
The training was held at Camden Central High School and conducted by volunteers from the Dickson Police Department (DPD). DPD Captain Todd Christian led the instruction, with assistance from DPD Assistant Chief Seth Lyles and DPD Lieutenant Chad Fussell. Christian related that DPD staff complete active shooter training each year, and following the recent shooting in Uvalde, Texas, they decided to offer training to other communities as well.
“This is training that we’ve needed for a long time, and I appreciate our law enforcement colleagues from Dickson for coming here and holding the class,” said Benton County Sheriff Kenny Christopher. “We hope that we never have to deal with this type of situation, but we must be prepared in case we are ever faced with it.”
The four-hour session included classroom, physical, and tactical instruction. Standard response protocols also were discussed for an active shooter incident including the roles and responsibilities that different agencies would have as they respond to the scene.
Stephen Phelps, a retired TBI officer who serves as safety coordinator for Benton County Schools, also participated in the training. He thanked the DPD, stressing that the safety and well-being of students and personnel is always taken very seriously and a top priority for Benton County Schools.
“As the new school year begins, we are committed to providing a safe and secure learning environment in each one of our schools. We are constantly assessing and re-assessing our security protocols to make sure our students and staff have the safest environment possible,” Phelps said. “We are proud of the working relationship we have with Benton County first responders, and I’m pleased that personnel from law enforcement, fire departments, park services, and EMS were present for this important training. Working together, we are looking forward to another safe school year.”
Christian said he and his officers appreciated the opportunity to be in Camden to provide Benton County first responders with this training. “It is critical for teachers, students, family members, and citizens always to notify authorities and school officials immediately if they hear, see, or even suspect a potential threat,” Christian emphasized.
Citizens can download an app on their mobile phones called SafeTN. The app allows citizens anonymously to report suspicious activity and safety concerns to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. Tips can be submitted 24/7. When the department receives a tip, they alert authorities in the local community so an investigation can begin. SafeTN is free and can be downloaded from most app stores.
At the end of training, Christopher pointed out that in addition to first responders having knowledge on how to respond to a shooting incident on school grounds, they also must be prepared for active shooter situations that might occur at other places.
“Even though it is unthinkable, a shooting incident could occur at a large business or at a community event that attracts big crowds,” Christopher said. “Regardless of the location, we can no longer think that such an incident will never happen here. We must be ready to respond with all available resources in order to protect the lives and property of our citizens, and especially the lives of our schoolchildren.”

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