The 2011 event marked a year of great successes and new challenges for the Gate, Perimeter and Exodus department. Due to better pre-event planning, a stronger and more cohesive management team, a record number of new volunteers, and some good weather to boot, our operations went very smoothly and according to plan. Though this department excels at handling unexpected situations, we saw less burnout among our staff than in prior years, and this was a welcome change.
We processed a record number of people in and out of Black Rock City, and also saw increases in the peak wait times for ingress and egress. This was despite the fact that we had many more volunteers working and had the best weather we have seen. We received lots of feedback about the frustration of such long wait times, and we will be exploring many options for how to address this issue. The best solution to ease wait times is for participants to arrive during non-peak hours, but the general desire to spend as much time in BRC as possible has so far been trumping the desire to not wait in line. As we consider the impacts of additional population growth in the future, we will be looking for creative solutions.
One of our biggest challenges this year came as a result of tickets selling out. Since it was not possible to buy tickets at the Gate, we were left with no other option but to turn entire vehicles away if one person did not have a ticket. Fortunately, due to a concerted communications effort, there were fewer people who showed up at the event site looking for tickets than we anticipated. However, dealing with unexpected deliveries and those who failed to plan ahead properly was more challenging than in prior years, and caused added frustration.
Not surprisingly we also saw a surge in counterfeit tickets, some of which looked much more like the real thing than counterfeits we have seen in the past. Though easy to spot if you knew what you were looking for, numerous participants couldn’t tell the difference and ended up as victims of fraud. During the event we were already talking with the Ticketing department about how to better prevent this in the future.
Again in 2011 a substantial number of participants arrived on the first day of the event. And, people continue to show up prior to the opening time. This continues to present challenges as we work to avoid overwhelming the local towns and highways with traffic. We again implemented an early “staging lot” as a place to stack vehicles that arrived prior to opening. Most of these folks had not read our communications in the Jackrabbit Speaks Newsletter and Survival Guide warning that the process of being staged prior to opening results in getting into the event later than if they showed up on time (we have to give priority to the traffic coming off of the highway after opening in order to keep it moving). We plan to broaden and increase our communications around entry issues in 2012.
We are charged with the responsibility to ensure participants safe entry into BRC. To that end, on opening day we work with the BLM to determine if an early opening of the Gate is warranted for safety reasons. This year, we determined the need existed for an early opening time as a way to address heavy traffic, including congestion in Empire and Gerlach. We will again be reassessing the opening plan for 2012, taking into consideration safety issues, staffing needs, and when BRC is ready to receive participants.
Due to the lack of available tickets, Perimeter had a busier year in 2011. Fortunately, interest in working Perimeter shifts was at an all-time high so most of our shifts were well-staffed. Since there was no possibility of purchasing tickets, those who were caught trying to sneak into the event were cited by the BLM for a violation of the BLM closure order. We hope fewer people will attempt to enter BRC by less-than-honorable means in 2012, but if they do we will be ready. We trained a handful of new Shift Leads in 2011, and we will be adding more staff and technology in 2012 to further assist Perimeter operations.
Due to the amazing weather and a spectacular Temple, very few people had left BRC as of Sunday night, and at that point we knew Monday’s Exodus was not going to be fun. The majority of participants left on Monday, which resulted in very long wait times. At that point all we could do was utilize BMIR to encourage people not to leave if possible, and try to make their Exodus experience as least painful as possible.
We successfully expanded our Pulsing operations (the practice of allowing vehicles to sit stationary on Gate Road and then pulsing them forward once per hour) from 10am to 2am on Sunday and Monday of the Exodus period. Instead of doing the multi-hour creep down Gate Road, participants could get out of their vehicles or use the time to take a break from driving. We continue to see participants who don’t know what Pulsing is become frustrated when vehicles are not moving (by design) so we will continue to work on better communication about the process.
We want to again clarify that Pulsing does not reduce the amount of time it takes to get from BRC to the highway – the goal is to make the experience more positive by reducing the amount of stop and go. A major challenge for Exodus continues to be finding enough folks who want to volunteer with us at the end of the event – come be a Flagger or Pulser with us next year and avoid having to wait in the line!
While the Exodus team works hard to make everybody’s exit as smooth and safe as possible, the reality remains that we all have to travel home via a rural Nevada highway. No matter how we arrange operations on the playa or how many exits we have, there is a limit to how fast we can move cars onto the highway and through Gerlach. Thus, the quality of the Exodus experience is most affected by people spreading out their departure times. We are continuing to look at radical solutions to solving Exodus issues, and at the same time we hope participants will understand the geographic and structural limitations of the Exodus process.
In expectation of the higher population, we expanded our Volunteer Coordination Team who worked exceptionally hard to recruit more volunteers. We added 142 new people to our department, more than any other year. Our Training Crew kicked it into high gear to improve and increase the training and mentoring program to ensure all of our new volunteers were prepared for their first shifts. Our Support Services Crew, tasked with delivering food, transporting staff, and generally taking care of our volunteers, came back bigger and better in 2011.
Despite huge gains in our staffing levels, understaffing continues to be a challenge for some of our shifts. We run 24 hour operations for several weeks, which means we need hundreds of volunteers to fully cover shifts and avoid burnout. If you’ve ever experienced a long line at the Gate or during Exodus, don’t complain! Burning Man happens because participants give of their time; YOU can make the process better by volunteering.
We wish to extend appreciation to the Gate, Perimeter, and Exodus staff for their hard work and dedication to getting the job done under any circumstances and in any conditions, especially those who return year after year to do it all again.
Kristy Evans & Seth Schrenzel