Chattanooga church hosting active-shooter training course

In this file photo, members of a mass choir at First Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Brainerd rehearse for an upcoming concert. The church will soon host a training course to help area congregations prevent and de-escalate active-shooter scenarios.

On May 9, deacon Bridget Johnston and her fellow leaders at First Cumberland Presbyterian Church on North Moore Road will host an active-shooter training course to help local believers keep their congregations safe.

"The church has always been a sanctuary in the past," Johnston said. "But with what's going on today, I think that we have to be prepared wherever we are."

The two-hour session will be lead by Chris Jones, training specialist at the University of Tennessee's Law Enforcement Innovation Center.

Though several churches have procedures in place for fires and tornadoes, Jones said he rarely finds churches with an active-shooter emergency management plan. Creating such a plan is important for worshippers because they're considered a "soft" target, as anyone from the public is granted access without restriction, he said.

"Churches, by nature, are accepting of all individuals," Jones said. "That inherently makes them more vulnerable because they're letting everyone in because they want everyone to worship, and it's usually that lone wolf that comes in and takes advantage."

In addition to providing guidelines for crafting an emergency management plan, Jones will teach attendees how to use their church's existing environment to beef up security, how to de-escalate active shootings, and how to best employ surveillance cameras, remote door locks and other security technology.

He also will teach guests how to conduct a security and vulnerability assessment, which he recommends church members do twice a year to ensure the building is structurally sound, and will distribute a checklist to make the assessment easier.

Though geared toward churches, Johnston said anyone from the general public is welcome to attend. He encourages stakeholders in public facilities, whether they be "houses of worship, businesses or even city parks," to come out to ensure those entering or using those spaces are secure.

"There's a lot of liability there for those that aren't making those facilities as safe as possible," Jones said. "It's a necessary evil."

The free training session is being held at First Cumberland from 10 a.m.-12 p.m.

Contact staff writer Myron Madden at