Ranger Operations

Leadership Changes

2010 was a year of change for the Black Rock Ranger leadership.  After ten years of dedicated service, our Operations Chief departed, leaving an Idaho-sized hole in the department. Filling this hole led to a top down redesign of our on-playa leadership structure and divided the Operations Manager role into a triumvirate of three experienced Rangers.  In addition, separate pairs of managers were tasked with leading the Logistics and Personnel departments, expanding their on-playa roles and distributing the management responsibilities of the department across a six person team.  This on-playa arrangement more closely matches the current off-playa leadership structure (the Ranger Council) and allowed for greater continuity and coherence as we transitioned in and out of the event.

This larger leadership team presented communication challenges, internally and externally.  Other departments, used to a single point of contact with the Rangers, found themselves needing to contact different managers depending on the nature of the task at hand. Similar situations arose within the department.  And, of course, within this six person team, communication needed to be frequent and effective. Even with these challenges, thanks to an increasingly seasoned and experienced core of returning Rangers, 2010 was completed without any major operational hiccups and only a few minor ones.

Retention and Recruiting

The past several years have shown an increased dedication to providing Rangers with the support and appreciation appropriate for the work that they do. We believe we are seeing the fruits of these efforts in the form of improved retention rates as this seasoned and experienced group of returning Rangers continues to return. In addition, our Volunteer Coordinators, Training, and Mentoring teams keep adding a steady supply of eager new volunteers to our ranks. The Training team has also added advanced training modules to expand the toolkit of our returning volunteers.  

The Rangers, through the Mentor team, were able to be increasingly selective when considering bringing new volunteers into the department this year. The quality of both our current volunteer pool and of our prospective volunteer talent has put us in a unique position of overabundance. One learning from the 2010 event is that the criteria and decision-making processes the Mentor team goes through will be under increased scrutiny if we continue in this privileged position of abundance. It is never an easy task to turn down an offer of volunteer time; however, due to the unique mission of the Rangers within Black Rock City, we are often put in a position to do so. While this will hopefully ensure a department filled with rock star Rangers, it also means turning away prospective Rangers. The Rangers will continue to refine their criteria for becoming a Ranger and to improve the methods with which they communicate the decision about whether we are able to accept a volunteer’s time for the event year.

As a result of both strong recruitment efforts in 2007, 2008, and 2009 and our increased retention rates, our staffing levels allow us to better support the city than ever before. Per-shift staffing levels reached record highs in 2010 and many Rangers were able to add special teams training and shifts to their schedule, broadening our overall ability to serve the citizens of Black Rock City.

Cross-Department Training

The Training team held a special pre-event training session on playa, specifically geared towards volunteers in other departments. This well-attended session was a resounding success, accomplishing many goals. Other departments were given an insight into the tools and techniques used by Rangers as well as insight how to apply them to their own departments. Attendees were given a better understanding of how the Ranger department operates, which will lead towards smoother cross-department interactions in future. Several of the attendees took the final step of attending a mentoring shift and became active Dirt Rangers.

Burn Night

The Saturday night Burn went without any major hitches thanks to the continuing cooperation and communication between all departments involved. The temporary fence erected before the pyro load-in continues to be a great labor saving device for the Rangers, as well as a more reliable barrier in case of dust storms.

The Rangers place a final layer of defense in-between the perimeter of the crowd and the flaming inferno known as the Man. This challenging role requires a blend of agility, presence of mind, and excellent judgment in an intensely chaotic environment. In these extreme situations, there is an inherent tension between the non-confrontational ethos of the Rangers and our concern for the immediate safety of participants. Sometimes Rangers need to act in ways that would be classified as ‘un-Rangerly’ in any other situation. Knowing when to make that distinction is perhaps the most demanding task we ask of a Ranger. It is clear that as a department we can do a better job of selecting and preparing individuals for this critical role. This is an area that we will be examining very seriously looking ahead to the 2011 event.


Rangers have been able to undergo a considerable change in leadership, which is a challenge for any organization. That we've been able to come out the other side well-positioned for the future is a testament to the health of the department and the quality of the individuals within, as well as the people who have brought us to where we are. We are grateful for the hard work and dedication shown by the Rangers, both our current volunteers and those who have moved on from volunteering with our department, as we look towards the future.

The LEAL Team  (Law Enforcement and Agency Liaison Team)

(Note: LEAL is part of the Black Rock Rangers, the Playa Safety Council, and the Burning Man Political Sub-Committee)

Law Enforcement

The Burning Man Political Sub-Committee, formed in 2009, functioned quite well throughout 2010. The LEAL Team Manager is a member of that sub-committee, and the bulk of the LEAL Team Manager’s work activity during 2010 focused on Political Sub-Committee priorities and projects. The LEAL Team, as it operates on playa liaisoning with law enforcement and working with law enforcement related political entities year round, remains a component of the Black Rock Rangers, with the LEAL Team Manager serving as a member of the Ranger Operations Team, as well as a member of the Playa Safety Council. In 2010 the LEAL Team, as well as several other representatives of Burning Man, continued to work on strengthening relationships with outside Law Enforcement Agencies. Efforts were made to continue the candor in communications with law enforcement established in previous years. The mixed success of these efforts is summarized below.

There is one key component that serves to distill the importance of focusing upon law enforcement relationships, not only key law enforcement players, but also with the political entities they represent. It is the fact that federal Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) from the Bureau of Land Management and state LEOs from Pershing County continue to use the Black Rock Rangers as a first response mechanism in Black Rock City and in dealing with on-playa situations. In some circumstances, the specialized LEAL Team may also be called to a scene by law enforcement. These are practices we both hope to preserve and continue to reinforce because the needs of our community are best served by Black Rock Rangers as first response. The reason the aforementioned processes of preservation and reinforcement are important is due to the fact that Burning Man’s relationship(s) with law enforcement are not constant and predictable, but subject to sometimes significant variation on a year to year basis. The paragraphs below contain examples of these shifting realities from Burning Man 2010 and the months preceding.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) — Federal Law Enforcement

Over the winter months, the LEAL Team Manager met with the BLM Officer in Charge (OIC) and Deputy OIC. While the tone of these meetings was positive, and the relationships collegial in nature, the fact remains that BLM changed very few, if any, of their previously held positions. In fact, as it now appears more clearly in hindsight, as Burning Man has engaged in more pushback re: BLM Law Enforcement behaviors on playa— that the BLM has become more rigid and inflexible, almost as if they were defending established turf. For the third year in a row, the LEAL Team Manager and the Ranger Operations Managers met with the BLM LEOs during their group training/orientation session on the Saturday before the event began. The BLM LEO management team has remained accessible and open to discussion both on and off playa.

BLM citations written by BLM law enforcement remained at the same level as in 2009, despite the fact that Black Rock City had a substantial increase in population in 2010. This data point adds continuing credence, as we have shown statistically, that there is not a correlation between BRC population and the number of BLM LE citations written. In fact, analysis of a nine-year data set confirms the uncomfortable conclusion that BLM LE can choose to write as many citations as they wish in any given year regardless of the population. Our larger concern is that by BLM LE writing a larger number of citations— they could then direct this “fact” towards a self-fulfilling message that “Since the number of citations is up, or the number of citations is large, then there must be a problem in Black Rock City.”

Pershing County Sheriff Office (PCSO) — State Law Enforcement

This paragraph is copied from the 2009 LEAL Afterburn: “Pershing County is a rural Nevada county, has a small population, and has a total law enforcement force that is much smaller than the contingent of law enforcement that the PCSO seems compelled to have in Black Rock City. For the last several years, this problem has been addressed by having Washoe County off-duty LEOs working under contract for PCSO on playa. The state law enforcement Officer in Charge has, for all of these years, been a WCSO sergeant or lieutenant. Quoting from the 2008 LEAL Afterburn— “These relationships (with state law enforcement) are characterized by professionalism, timely and appropriate response and active and open communications.” The same cannot be said in this 2009 Afterburn Report for Burning Man 2009.”  

2010 was the second year that Pershing County, under Sheriff Ron Skinner, has chosen to attempt to manage the Burning Man event without outside counsel or assistance. The result continued to produce unsatisfactory results. The problem that had existed before, such as inadequate training, lack of experience of the sub-contracted individual LEOs, and lack of understanding of the Burning Man infrastructure (e.g., the Black Rock Rangers), as well as to how to utilize that infrastructure, continued.  

It all began with a scheme by the PCSO to utilize horseback mounted patrols in Black Rock City. Their basic rationale was to be able to “move a crowd” during a riot. The fact that there has been nothing even resembling the smell of a riot in the 25-year history of Burning Man did not deter them from this position. A very strong set of objections then arose from Burning Man as well as other cooperating agencies such as the Nevada State Department of Health. Issues were horse poop on the playa, participant safety issues, and even safety issues for the horses themselves.  

Because of these pressures, PCSO withdrew their intent to “test drive” the concept in Black Rock City early in the week, still insisting that they would keep the horses in reserve (they had already delivered them to a small farm close to the event). Then, evidently angered or embarrassed by this episode, PCSO, for the rest of the week, refused to attend the 3:15 Daily Cooperators Meeting attended by all of the agencies and law enforcement groups working the event. This created considerable communication and coordination problems. However, in fairness to the PCSO contingent, the Burning Man LEAL Team Manager was able to communicate with PCSO by journeying to the Law Enforcement compound and finding the PCSO personnel on duty.

It should be noted that in the November 2nd election, a new Sheriff of Pershing County, Rich Machado, was elected. Burning Man is therefore anticipating an enhanced capacity for both communication and inter-agency cooperation in the years to come.  

Other External Entities and the Burning Man Community

The ACLU was once again active on playa in 2010, with a booth at Playa Info that they staffed. ACLU representatives also attended the Daily Cooperators Meetings at 3:15 each day.  Lawyers for Burners (LFB) was also active on playa observing LE behaviors. LFB has also been very active and very successful over the last few winters, getting a substantial percentage of the state LE and BLM LE citations dismissed in the state and federal court systems. LFB continues to encourage Burners to fight unlawful/inappropriate/unjustified BLM citations in Federal Court in Reno and PCSO citations in the state courts.   

Finally, a concerted effort was once again made by the whole Burning Man community to maximize use of Burning Man’s Law Enforcement Feedback Forms. This program worked quite successfully on playa in 2009, and it worked well again in 2010. The number of LE Feedback reports turned in was up; but, more importantly, the quality of the reports was also up. As a result, the Burning Man Legal Department, the Burning Man Political Sub-Committee, and the LEAL Team got better data, got more accurate reporting, and in a couple of particularly difficult/bothersome cases, got multiple/reinforcing reports.

Submitted by,
Brian M Rosen, Kate Madden, and Duane Hoover