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Morongo Conducts Successful School Evacuation Drill


Tribal and Riverside County agencies join together for a recent training exercise to ensure Morongo School students can be safely and swiftly transported from their campus in an emergency.

CABAZON, CA -- The Morongo band of Mission Indians recently conducted an emergency drill to practice safely evacuating all students from the three Morongo Indian Reservation school campuses in the face of a simulated wildfire that threatened the facilities.
All students were evacuated as part of the morning exercise on May 21 and then later returned to their campuses. More than 150 personnel participated in the drill, including Morongo School administrators and teachers, the Morongo Fire Department, Tribal Reservation Patrol, Casino Tribal Security and the Morongo Transportation Department, the Banning Police Department, Riverside County Office of Emergency Services, Riverside County Fire Department, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

“Nothing is more important than the safety and wellbeing of the children at our schools, and proactive exercises such as this help ensure that we are best prepared to respond should a real emergency strike,” said Tribal Chairman Robert Martin of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians. “We want to thank our partner agencies for their time and for working with us to conduct this important training exercise.”
The drill was designed to demonstrate the ability of Morongo first responders to safely evacuate the schools during a crisis and to make sure various tribal and county departments are able to communicate and work efficiently and effectively during an emergency incident, said Morongo Emergency Services Manager Floyd Velasquez, who coordinated the exercise with his department.
“We are very pleased with the results of the drill and by how all of our departments worked collectively and with the county agencies to quickly move all of the students and school personnel to safety,” Velasquez said. “We tried to make the elements of this scenario as realistic as possible, and we will be analyzing the results to see if we can strengthen our crisis response procedures even further.”
The drill began about 9:30 a.m. when the Morongo Fire Department received a simulated call that a welder had accidentally touched off a wildfire in the brushy ravine behind the Morongo Senior Center and upper Morongo School.
Morongo and county fire engines rolled onto the scene, where firefighters began unrolling hose linesand creating a fire line with shovels and picks. With the mock wildfire growing, communications crackled across walkie-talkies as the evacuation order was quickly issued based on the proximity of the simulated fire to the schools.
Within minutes, teachers and administrators quickly emptied their classrooms and formed the more than 125 students into orderly lines outside each campus. Reservation and casino security officers arrived on scene to assist as school officials used bullhorns to direct students and account for each pupil.
The tribal transportation department rolled up within seconds with yellow buses and the students wereloaded and whisked away to the Morongo Community Center.A final room-by-room walkthrough was conducted at each school to make sure no student or workers had been left behind and the “all clear” signal was given. Patrol and security officers remained on scene at each campus. In a real emergency, the officers would direct parents to the community center or another location where children had been relocated for safety.
By 11 a.m., the drill was completed and students were returned to their classrooms. Fire crews began rolling up hoses and repacking their equipment as they loaded back onto fire engines. Emergency personnel then gathered to compare notes and discuss their observations of the exercise.

“You can never be too prepared, and training like this can be an absolute lifesaver,” said Chief Kevin Gaines of the Morongo Fire Department. “These exercises are important for making sure that everyone knows what to do and how to respond when a real-life crisis strikes.”
Morongo Education Administrator Lisa Santos Tabarez agreed, saying that she was very pleased with how students and teachers performed during the drill.
“Everyone realizes the importance of practicing like this, including our students and parents,” Tabarez said. “Having a well-designed emergency plan in place and knowing how to use that plan gives us peace of mind that we are all well-prepared to react should something unexpected ever occur.”