Playa Info

Playa Info had a strong returning team in 2013 with a “deep bench” of approximately 130 on- and off-playa volunteers filling critical shifts. Two recruitment-oriented Volunteer Coordinators, out of a total of three, significantly improved the efficacy of finding and engaging new volunteers. The large staffing allowed for complete coverage for answering questions and reuniting people with their lost items as well as servicing the very large number of participants using the Playa Info computer terminals during the event. For the third year running, we kept up 27 to 30 Directory terminals with virtually no downtime despite the playa’s high dust and heat; long queues for the popular service now seem to be a thing of the past. The pre-playa meetings with our core volunteer group were critical in proactively enhancing our offered services and informational communications/materials, as well as artistically enhancing the fabulous décor within the shade structure and ornamental fencing in the front plus the minimal, low-wattage, ambient, nighttime lighting.

Our shade structure’s placement on a 45-degree angle to the corner of the inner Center Camp Portal allowed great access. There was excellent visibility for participants to readily locate Playa Info. And, our camp was located close to Rangers, BMIR, and other Community Services camps for more efficient inter-related activities. The bright blue LEDs on the top-front “Playa Info” sign as well as those on the “i” signs mounted high on the tower next to the shade structure provided excellent night and day visibility. This year we added a 48-foot long “Playa Info” with “I” logo banner along the portal side of our shade structure. As a result, participants could readily locate Playa Info from just about anywhere from Center Camp to the far reaches of BRC. The tower base was again decorated as a signpost comically indicating directions to a multitude of important BRC destinations. Our mostly red-attired shade structure still seems to be the cool cyber café in the midst of the hot days. Many people just enjoyed hanging out, waiting to meet someone, and interacting with all the latest info! The Volunteer Resource Team’s adjoining shade structure included 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: volunteer laminate design, business cards with post-event lost & found contact information, improved found item process and storage, 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-right 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—were re-energized under a new leader. They permeated BRC, sharing much-appreciated info amongst the participants as well as incorporating Burning Man values in their messages.

For its sixth year, Air Playa Info provided a stand-alone service beyond Black Rock City, with support from Playa Info and the Communications department. This function was located at, and supported by, the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority during the 2013 event. Local Reno residents who volunteered at the desk were especially helpful. This official booth was thoroughly appreciated by most of the 15,000-plus participants passing through the airport to Black Rock City. Key successes were:

  • Use of Communications outlets (website & JRS) and social media pre-event increased knowledge for participants of Air Playa Info, the airport, and local resources
  • Lead organizers distributing their responsibility with low overlap
  • Volunteer Coordinators who successfully managed recruitment and staffing
  • Two co-leads at Air Playa Info during operations making operations smoother and more expert in transition from shift-to-shift and day-to-day
  • Prime space, resources, and materials such as local maps and guest book provided by the Reno Airport Authority—well utilized by participants from 30 countries
  • Information on popular pit stops, air travel to BRC, maps, directions, ridesharing and other regional resources was well-utilized by participants
  • Air Playa Info laminates as “official” identification for volunteers
  • Desk for Burner Express, which was very welcome by the Airport Authority and travelers, was located beside Air PI for a symbiotic relationship

Also beyond Black Rock City, Playa Info 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 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 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:

  • The latest version of the Playa Info “Directory” computer application/system, created with Burning Man-supported software development tools, with several thousand theme camp, art, events, rideshare, and participant entries
  • A further improved lost and found system that significantly enhanced 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
    • A significantly improved browser-based FileMaker found item tracking database and respective volunteer training for more efficient reuniting efforts, including:
      489 items returned on playa with a 33% return rate, up 18% from 2012
      786 out of 1,503 total found items were returned with a 52% return rate within 35 days
      78% of found IDs were returned within 35 days
    • Playa Info “Line Wranglers” walking the lost & found queue to identify quick versus longer inquiries
    • Business cards with Burning Man lost and found e-mail address and ePlaya URL being handed to unsuccessfully inquiring participants
    • Community Services Manager coordinating with Lost & Found Co-Leads organizing the post-event found item reunification
  • 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 misfortune” or referring to Magic 8 Balls to help answer questions
  • Adding new “Geek” volunteer positions dedicated to installing and maintaining computer system hardware and software
  • Adding “Line Wrangler” volunteer positions, which provided opportunities for inexperienced volunteers and allowing flexibility in managing ebb and flow of lines
  • Walk-around Directory volunteers assisting participants in locating and using open Playa Info computer terminals
  • Day Managers along with Shift Leads responsibly leading and facilitating Playa Info’s efforts
  • 2013 Burning Man 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
  • New Outreach Lead reigniting info support communication year-round with Burning Man departments and Regionals organizers
  • Planning coordination with DPW that significantly eased camp setup and takedown
  • Coordinating with DPW Fuel Depot to locate a theme camp liaison at a Playa Info desk
  • Coordinating with Emergency/Health Services for emergency message transfer
  • Obtaining from Greeters extra BRC maps for participants
  • Reno Airport airlines re-establishing direct luggage delivery to the Box Office, which then transported it to Playa Info on a regular basis
  • Coordinating with the Nevada Health Department to locate their Q&A representatives 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 software developers to update the content and implement the Playa Info Directory. This software application receives all the participant data input to the Burning Man Events (the first 960 of which are published in the What Where When) and Rideshare website applications. 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:

  • Continued 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
  • Continuously improving the lost and found system
  • 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 during the event
  • Replacing the “Playa Info” with “I” logo banner across the front of the shade structure
  • Posting improved “Closed” signs and otherwise differentiate any after-hours activities from “official” information services
  • Continue replacing shade structure decorative ceiling bunting with durable and easy-to-install shade tarps
  • Cross-fertilizing, via communication and planning coordination, with other internal Burning Man groups
  • Continued consultation and volunteerism to Info Desks at off-playa events
  • Making Air Playa Info even more successful by:
    • trouble-shooting wi-fi issues at airport to allow Playa Info Directory access on laptop at desk.
    • improving execution of Orientation Video for Newbies at Air Playa Info
    • recruiting more volunteers who know the region
    • increasing audience for and use of social media pre-event in getting info out
    • adding documentation for operations, such as on local hotels
    • continuing to explore ways to inform participants about trash/recycling options away from the airport and to encourage participants to be clean and appropriately dressed post-event before arriving at the airport
  • 2014 Burning Man themed Playa Info laminates
  • Further improving pre-event remote volunteer training
  • Updating the Playa Info training manual

Submitted by,

Rob Oliver