Sheriff’s deputies, firefighters and emergency medical technicians flooded a Pechanga Resort & Casino parking lot as dozens of people – many seen complaining of injuries – were rushed out of the nearby employment training building. Several onlookers watched calmly from a nearby parking garage.
The surreal scene was part of a planned active shooter training exercise Wednesday night, Nov. 15, which included members of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, Riverside County Fire Department, the FBI and Pechanga Tribal Rangers, among other agencies.
Jason Keeling, fire chief for the Pechanga Fire Department, said recent active shooter situations made members of the department decide it was important to start training for such incidents.
He said that Deano Esades, Pechanga Fire Department’s training battalion chief, started putting together the plans for the exercise which initially was just going to include a few member agencies such as the Pechanga Fire Department, Pechanga Tribal Rangers and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
“We realized that we all need to come together and train together, because in a real event, we’re all going to be helping each other,” he said. “So that’s kind of how it grew over the planning phase. Each month we held a regular standing meeting, and each month more agencies participated.”
Riverside County Fire Department Chief John Hawkins said that even before a large-scale training exercise happens, there are smaller-scale preparations that have to be made.
“Countywide, the Riverside County fire chiefs have implemented a standard fire service response to active shooter or tactical response as we call it,” Hawkins said. “So we all use the same bible, so to speak; so that’s a big step.”
He said the Riverside County Fire Department has purchased tactical response equipment for its members and holds regularly scheduled exercises, “doing what’s necessary so if we have a large scale incident like this we can respond to it.”
Ciara Green, spokeswoman for Pechanga Resort & Casino, said there were about 50 people role playing at the employment training building. Most were acting as employees, whereas one person went in acting as the gunman.
She said a number of the actors were actually drama students from Great Oak High School who were acting out roles as part of a graded assignment for their classes.
In the early stages of the exercise, people could be seen running from the building.
Later, after law enforcement and fire officials arrived, the “injured” were either helped or carried out of the building and laid down in the parking lot for treatment.
Green said the exercise even included taking some people to hospitals.
Keeling said that local hospitals were among the entities involved in the incident because they wanted to test their own systems and see how they could handle an active shooter situation.
He said he was hoping that Wednesday’s exercise would give Pechanga’s agencies and other first responders some institutional knowledge for the future.
“We’re going to exercise those plans today and we’re going to learn from that, take the positives, continue on and push forward with our relationships, and make sure we’re providing a safe community,” he said.
Pechanga Resort & Casino is already planning another scenario-based exercise with first responders, officials said.