Playa Info

Key Successes:

  • New lost and found process and database significantly improved found item reunification
  • Fourth year of successful Air Playa Info service for participants passing through the Reno-Tahoe Airport
  • Improved rideshare function in updated Directory computer system
  • Increased Directory usage and best hardware uptime for reliable participant experience

Key Improvements Planned for 2012:

  • Extending lost and found system improvements
  • Refocusing volunteer recruitment to bring in more volunteers and to fill busy weekend and breakdown shifts

Playa Info had its most successful year ever in combining all of the Burning Man information resources under one roof as well as branching beyond Black Rock City. The services included:

  • Answers to questions by our ever-so-knowledgeable “Oracles” and roving “Ambassadors”
  • The “Directory” computer system with up-to-date art, events, theme camp, and participant information, as well as ride share and messaging postings
  • Lost and Found
  • Large Black Rock City map with up-to-date camp listings
  • Boards for “official” notifications and answers to “Top Ten” questions
  • Bulletin boards for participants

Playa Info again had a strong returning team in 2011 with a “deep bench” of more than 100 on- and off-playa volunteers, filling critical shifts. Walk-up recruitment was essential for filling breakdown shifts on closing day. The influx of volunteers allowed good coverage for answering questions, reuniting lost items of the Black Rock City denizens, and servicing the very large number of participants using the Playa Info computer terminals during the event. For the first time, we kept up—with virtually no downtime—27 Directory terminals despite the playa’s high dust and heat. This eliminated past years’ long participant queues for the popular service with approximately 74,540 page hits over eight days this year.

The pre-playa meetings with our core volunteer group were critical in proactively enhancing our offered services and informational communications/materials, as well as the artistic creation of the fabulously flowing fabric decor and minimal, low-wattage, ambient, night-time lighting.

Our shade structure’s placement on a 45-degree angle to the corner of the inner Center Camp Portal allowed great access and bike parking. There was excellent visibility for participants to readily locate Playa Info. And, our camp was located close to other Community Services and Emergency Services camps for more efficient inter-related activities. The new, bright blue LEDs on the “I” signs elevated above the camp provided great night and day visibility allowing participants to locate Playa Info from the far reaches of BRC. Our mostly red-attired shade structure still seems to be the cool cyber cafe in the midst of the hot days with some walk-up acoustic and spoken word performances on the new stage at night. Many people just enjoyed hanging out, waiting to meet someone, and interacting with all the latest info! The Volunteer Resource Team’s move out to their own adjoining shade structure included creating a veranda between it and Playa Info’s structure for participant traversing, bike parking, and lost and found queuing.

We had some terrific volunteers suggesting ways to further improve and expand our service as well as working on fun projects. These included: two sturdy yet flat-foldable wood seats replacing big sofas, volunteer laminate design, pocket maps of BRC, Plexiglas-protected What Where When pages, and alphabetized sections of the bulletin boards. The large map provided BRC details; it was easily referenced at the shade structure’s front-left entry and was kindly kept free of mark-up and graffiti. Oracles and participants interacted with much artistic merriment through props, games, singing and even contests! The Playa Info Ambassadors—our on-foot-with-wagon staff—continued their stride spreading much-appreciated info amongst the participants as well as incorporating Burning Man values in their messages.

For its fourth year, Air Playa Info provided a stand-alone service beyond BRC, with support from Playa Info and the Communications Department. This function was located at and supported by the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority during the 2011 event. Local Reno residents who volunteered at the desk were especially helpful. This official booth was thoroughly appreciated by most of the 12,000 to 15,000 participants passing through the airport to Black Rock City. Improvements included:

  • Two Reno-based Volunteer Coordinators (VCs) who:

– successfully managed recruitment and staffing
– oversaw daily operations at the airport, and were both local and knew the area well

  • Prime space, resources, and materials such as local maps and guest book provided by the Reno Airport Authority
  • Maps and signs on easels and volunteer/local resources manual to share with information with participants such as directions, maps, prohibited items on airplanes, air travel from Reno to BRC, and local rideshares
  • Volunteers’ laptops to look up info on the excellent Reno pages and other Burning Man web site pages
  • Air Playa Info laminates as “official” identification for volunteers

Playa Info also provided the Info Desk/Directory/Found Item toolkit to organizers planning information services at Regional events. Playa Info volunteers ran the Info Desks in San Francisco at the Convectional Caucus, Burnal Equinox, Precompression, and Decompression.

Our meetings began in February and culminated with a review meeting/decompression in October and a budget planning session in early November. While we had a great year, we noted areas that we could improve to offer even better info-related service in the next year. Successes included:

  • An update to the new Playa Info “Directory” computer application/system, created with Burning Man-supported software development tools
  • Attitude: making it fun and easing communication for participants and volunteers, including singing, info-related contests for those waiting, and employing some accessories such as the spinning “wheel of fortune” to help answer questions
  • A new lost and found system that significantly improved the on-playa and post-event reunification experience:

– A fast-track process for reuniting participants with their lost items, directing them straight to dedicated found item staff
– Playa Info staff walking the lost and found queue to identify quick versus longer inquiries
– Business cards with Burning Man lost and found e-mail address and ePlaya URL handed to unsuccessfully inquiring participants
– A new FileMaker-based found item tracking database for more efficient reuniting efforts
– Community Services Manager organizing the post-event found item reunification

  • Walk-around volunteers assisting participants in locating and using open Playa Info computer terminals
  • Day Managers along with Shift Leads who assumed responsibility for the management of Playa Info
  • Rites of Passage themed Playa Info laminates with “Yes! Ask Me – I Can Help” printed on the flipside to clearly identify Playa Info staff
  • Updating the myriad details in the Playa Info training manual
  • Training volunteers based on a service model—and on having fun
  • Planning coordination with DPW that significantly eased camp setup and takedown
  • Coordinating with Emergency/Health Services for emergency message transfer
  • Obtaining from Greeters extra What Where Whens and BRC maps for participants
  • Coordinating with Box Office for regularly delivering participants’ lost airline luggage
  • Coordinating with the Nevada Health Department to locate their Q&A representatives in the mornings at a Playa Info desk
  • Coordinating with the ACLU to locate their Q&A volunteers in the afternoons and evenings at a Playa Info desk
  • Playa Info staff actively approaching participants in front of the camp and directing them to the proper info service

The Burning Man Tech Team provided project management oversight and brought back last year’s software development team to create an awesome new Rideshare function. As part of the Playa Info Directory software application update in 2011, it receives all the data from the new Burning Man Rideshare website application. The user-in-a-dust-storm-friendly Directory application, with up-to-date participant, theme camp, event, and art information as well as rideshare and messaging functionality ran on the Playa Info computers essentially bug-free during the whole event.

For improvement, next year we plan to work on the following projects:

  • Refocusing Playa Info volunteer recruitment efforts to offset turnover and increase staff to match BRC population increases, particularly for the busy event weekend and break down shifts
  • Extending lost and found system improvements
  • Adding a bright LED-lighted “Playa Info” sign on the structure’s front to facilitate camp sighting
  • Posting “Closed” signs to differentiate any after-hours activities from “official” information services
  • Cross-fertilizing, via communication and planning coordination, with other internal Burning Man groups
  • Increasing communication through multiple channels of Playa Info services to reach the many BRC denizens who surprisingly do not know about Playa Info nor important Burning Man information
  • Continued expanding of the Playa Info Ambassador role to work with other Burning Man groups, for example Rangers and Earth Guardians, to interactively communicate important information with participants
  • Continued expanding of consultation and volunteerism to Info Desks at off-playa events
  • Looking for opportunities to support Air Playa Info and make it even more successful
  • 2012 Burning Man themed Playa Info laminates
  • Updating the training manual

Submitted by,
Rob Oliver