Ranger Operations

Black Rock Rangers and Law Enforcement Agency Liason (LEAL)

Black Rock Rangers
Recruiting, Retention and Staffing

The Rangers began a recruitment drive in 2008 that has allowed us to support the citizens of Black Rock City better than ever before. Shift staffing levels continue to improve and our focus on creating a culture of appreciation within the Rangers has improved volunteer retention. We did struggle to meet increased need for Rangers towards the end of the 2011 event, especially Sunday and Monday, and are looking at end-of-event issues and resources to address this change in the nature of the event cycle and to meet the ever-changing needs of Black Rock City.

The mentoring program is the Ranger department’s mechanism for evaluating new volunteers and ultimately deciding if they are a good match for the Rangers. In 2011, the Mentors continued to raise the bar of evaluating prospective Rangers to ensure that we continue to find volunteers who are a good fit for our mission and culture. The Mentor team also took on a new program to evaluate and orient Rangers who have not volunteered with the department for more than 5 years; because of the constantly-evolving nature of the event, we feel that Rangers who have been inactive for a long period of time benefit from a re-orientation. Additionally, this program seeks to check in with these returning Rangers and confirm that they remain a good fit for the department and the event. One of the learnings from 2011 was that notifying returning Rangers of their need to go through this program can be hard for a volunteer to hear; improved communication around the program department-wide may help to ease that process. There were some administrative hiccups with this new initiative, which had been managed by the Ranger Personnel Managers in 2010, but overall it was well-received and well-executed. The Rangers will look to refine the administration of this program for 2012.We continue to see high numbers of prospective volunteers and are beginning to have a group of seasoned Rangers who return year after year to volunteer with the department. However, the department is definitely undergoing some growing pains. As we continue to add large numbers of new volunteers, we struggle to acculturate them to the ethos of the department. New volunteers also struggle to plug into the department as our numbers grow. We value acculturation and integration of our volunteers to preserve the history and culture of the Ranger department and to deepen the our skills and knowledge base. A recruitment, retention and acculturation committee was formed after the 2011 event to evaluate strategies for tackling these issues.

In the season leading up to the 2011 event, the Rangers also put some polish on their relationship with Regional Ranger organizations.

In an effort to support regional Burning Man communities and events that are either “sanctioned”, wanting to become sanctioned, or are in the process of growth and based on the Burning Man principles, the Black Rock Rangers have created materials that can be distributed and used by the community to begin, cultivate and nurture their own Regional Rangering Organization.

These materials include a “Regional Ranger Organization Operations Guide” and a Training Guide. The Operations guide is a collection of lessons learned about staffing levels, equipment lists, and general information on a Ranger organization. The Training Guide is a comprehensive list of skills and information that is based on the Black Rock Ranger Training Guide.

We plan to continue fostering relationships with Regional Ranger Organizations in 2012, both to develop the Ranger skill set in regional communities and to provide prospective citizens of Black Rock City an accurate idea of what to expect when they encounter a Ranger at the Burning Man event.


Ranger trainings continue to rock! This year, the Ranger Trainers held 30 trainings in 15 states and two countries. The Green Dot Team added a three-hour morning training offered to returning Rangers and a day-long Green Dot training was offered in a few locations. For 2012, the Training Team and the Green Dots plan to work on ways to broaden their training capabilities; currently, the training can only be given by Green Dot Team members, who are not as geographically distributed as the Ranger Training Team. Additionally, a new self-paced Advanced Ranger Training (ART) on radio usage was added and was a resounding success; facilitated versions of the ART of Radio were also given both before the event and during the 2011 event. Additional ART morning modules and the refreshing of existing curriculum will be a focus for 2012.

Cross-Department Training

Additionally, the Gate created an ART of Gate module to offer to Rangers, which allowed the Ranger department to understand the workings of the Gate Department. We’re seeing many of our experienced Rangers volunteer with the Gate and the cross-pollination has led to some of the best inter-departmental collaboration we’ve experienced to date. We’re excited to continue the collaboration and potentially expand it to other departments for 2012.The Training team held a special pre-event training session on playa again this year, specifically geared towards volunteers in other departments. These sessions were held over two nights and were modified slightly from last year’s offering. The training was adapted from the regular Ranger training: the first night was designed to allow other departments an insight into the tools and techniques used by Rangers as well as how to apply them to their own departments. On the second night, attendees were given a better understanding of how the Ranger department operates and the process of becoming a Black Rock Ranger. Several of the attendees took the final step of attending a mentoring shift and became active Rangers.

Ranger operations went more smoothly than ever in 2011.  New processes put in place in 2010 by new managers were refined.  Additional training and better management of channels improved overall radio communications.

The Man Burn went well overall, though some better planning is due in a few areas, such as providing a direct line of communication via radio between the crews preparing the Man prior to the burn and the Rangers at the site, predetermined placement of performers and other parties within the perimeter during the per-show and burn, and establishing the perimeter earlier in the evening.Burning Man added a major burn event (CORE) on Wednesday night, in which numerous simultaneous burns were conducted around the Man, on a scale never done before.  Rangers collaborated with ESD and the Art Department to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for the event by assisting the artists responsible for each installation in preparing a safety perimeter, providing backup support at each location, and monitoring the overall scene from a command post at the Man, from which we could dispatch aid where needed.  The entire event carried on without any incidents.

Ranger collaboration with the Pershing County Deputies and PSCO’s vendor-oriented relationship with Burning Man, which included officers eating meals with event staff and direct radio communication between Ranger and PSCO managers, was highly productive.  PSCO’s “safety and welfare” oriented mission was positive for the citizens of Black Rock City and made for natural cooperation with Black Rock Rangers.  We also began to benefit from improved cooperation with BLM law enforcement as the week progressed, and we look forward further progress in the coming years.

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)

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: 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 2011 and the months preceding.2011 was another busy and productive year for the Burning Man Political Sub-Committee. The LEAL Team Manager is a member of that sub-committee, and the bulk of the LEAL Team Manager’s work activity during 2011 focused on Political Sub-Committee priorities and projects. The LEAL Team, as it operates on playa liaison-ing 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 2011 the LEAL Team, as well as several other representatives of Burning Man, continued to work on strengthening relationships with outside Law Enforcement Agencies.

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

Good News  — In terms of general demeanor and general comportment, this was one of the better years we have had with BLM law enforcement. There are glaring exceptions (see below), but we received numerous positive LE Feedback Forms and personal stories of BLM LEOs behaving just as we would want them to, as community service-oriented LEOs. There seems to be evidence of an increasing aura of professionalism in the ranks of BLM LEOs in general.

Bad News 1) — BLM LE citations were up in 2011 versus 2010. Total citations were up 28% and drug-related citations were up 38%. These look like bad numbers on the face of things, but remember that we have had years in the past where citations have been up over 100% as BLM LEOs have chosen to write a larger number of citations in a given year. BLM LEOs seem to have an almost exclusive focus on illegal drugs, neglecting issues of community safety and citizen welfare. This is not a change in their strategies from years past. The bottom line here is more of the same old same old.

Bad News 2) — The gist of the good BLM behavior observed is some evidence, albeit a bit spotty, that the total BLM barrel could be getting better. However, there is considerable evidence from BM 2011 that the BLM barrel still has some bad apples. We have received a large number of negative LE Feedback Forms which reported egregious BLM LEO behaviors. Breakdown on the negatives by our classification are as follows: excessive speed/dangerous driving, dogs used as threats and coercion, illegal search/search issues, and use of excessive force.

Pershing County Sheriff Office (PCSO) — State Law Enforcement

1)   A new Sheriff, Rich Machado, was elected in Pershing County.

2)   Pershing County’s new Sheriff created perhaps the best community-based policing effort ever seen at our event.

3)   Pershing County law enforcement officers were competent, professional, acted as positive collaborators, exercised open communication and tact in their relationships, and, in general, behaved in the best interests of the citizens of Black Rock City. In addition, while they did all of that, they helped to keep the city safe as they made it secure.

Other External Entities and the Burning Man Community

The ACLU was once again active on playa in 2011, with a booth at Playa Info that they staffed. Lawyers for Burners (LFB) was not active on playa in 2011. LFB and a number of Reno attorneys have been successful 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. 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 has been working successfully on playa since 2009, and it worked well again in 2011.

Submitted by,
Duane Hoover, Wilfredo Sanchez Vega & Kate Madden