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Parkland Shooting Survivor Discusses Interscholastic Safety with NCS4 Researchers

Fri, 09/20/2019 - 14:45pm | By: Van Arnold

Samantha Fuentes, a survivor of the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, visited the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) Sept. 17 to discuss research and education efforts to help prevent school shooting tragedies.

“What happened at Parkland changed the conversation,” said Dr. Lou Marciani, NCS4 Director. “It is forcing people and organizations to do better in protecting schools.”

Fuentes was the featured speaker that evening for the first fall 2019 University Forum where she presented “Conversations with Samantha Fuentes: Uplifting the Voices of the Silenced.”

During the conversation, Fuentes reflected on changes made at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after Feb. 14, 2018, when 17 people lost their lives after a gunman opened fire on the students, faculty, and staff at the school, with many more wounded, including Fuentes. She was left with shrapnel permanently embedded in her legs and behind her eye, and currently manages symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“After the shooting, too much happened too fast,” she said. “We had armed guards at every turn holding assault rifles, clear backpacks, metal detectors, and check-in points throughout the school. All the precautions had the adverse effect. Students didn’t feel comfortable.”

NCS4 has developed online training to enhance the safety and security awareness of individuals responsible for organizing, supervising, and supporting after school activities and interscholastic athletic events. Those responsible for organizing, supervising, and supporting the activities and events learn and apply best practices for risk management, professional development, communication, and planning.

“Education is the cornerstone of our communities and our country,” said Dr. Justin Kurland, Manager of Interscholastic Athletics Safety and Security at NCS4. “We are helping to fill this educational gap that exists in our nation through the course we developed for interscholastic athletics and after school safety and security.”

Fuentes said most of the questions and comments she hears at events are focused solely on reactive measures.

“They want to know what they should do in a situation, what I did, if the drills actually work,” she said. “It’s never about preventative action or outside of the realm of the actual school.”

Unlike more traditional approaches to prevention that focus on underlying biological, developmental, social, and political conditions thought to be liable for fostering the motivation of a shooter, Dr. Kurland’s research focuses on the causal role of opportunities in the immediate environment. Empirical evidence has repeatedly demonstrated the superior utility of adopting a situational approach to prevention for various forms of acquisitive and violent crimes including terrorism than alternative methods.

“It’s absolutely critical to be prepared and educated,” Fuentes said. “The decision making process can be drastically improved if an individual is already aware.”

Using resources such as the NCS4’s free training courses can help bridge the gap between school officials, students, staff, and safety personnel.

“The situational awareness component that we have attempted to embed in our course provides those not in law enforcement greater insight into various risks that they would otherwise not be aware of,” said Dr. Kurland.

Fuentes said since the Parkland tragedy, she’s seen a spike in advocacy and organizations created, specifically from youth groups, to help summon change.

“Everyone saw a nightmare playout in real life,” she said. “Any sensationalized fear people had became real in an instant.”

Dr. Marciani said the tragedy at Parkland was a tipping point for society on how they view these incidents.

“Before, it was just about guns,” he said. “The conversation has moved to the overall environment and looking into the smallest details. The goal is to make sure whatever or wherever the situation, a parent can feel safe dropping their child off.”

For more information on the NCS4 and the training courses they offer, visit