The Black Rock Rangers have been described in many ways since their inception in 1992. In the early days of the Burning Man Project, a loose-knit organization banded together to form an “urchin rescue team” to help lost and wandering participants searching for the ethereal borders of Black Rock City. In the years since that genesis, the Ranger organization has matured, while evolving with the changing landscape and social climate of Black Rock City. It’s sometimes said that the Rangers rise from the dust to ride the edge of chaos, then disappear into the whirlwinds. Clichés aside, Black Rock Rangers have been serving the citizens of Black Rock City these many years using nonconfrontational mediation as the primary tool. However, the era when Black Rock Rangers could be described with a single catchphrase has disappeared into those swirling dust eddies. In present day Black Rock City, the Rangers face increasing expectations from participants, organizers, and various outside agencies working within our city.
Burning Man 2005 presented everyone with a new and vastly different landscape within which to exercise their radical self-expression. Along with these changes came significant challenges for the Black Rock Rangers. In recent years the Man base has evolved as a locus of interactive play, performance, and art. The creation of the Funhouse in 2005 took this notion to new heights, offering participants a myriad of ways to participate with and experience the piece, including the ability to rotate the Burning Man.
The Funhouse also presented new challenges for the Rangers, as the level of staffing and vigilance needed at the Man base evolved beyond the easily managed role of previous events. Rangers working the Funhouse had to memorize the maze, monitor the potential hazards of its interactivity, and stay prepared to assist in guiding emergency services personnel should the need arise. What was once a simple and entertaining detail for the newest of Rangers evolved into a challenging role for even the most experienced ones.
The vehicle Intercept crew enjoyed continuing success in 2005, as they continued their efforts to address vehicle safety issues. Intercept operated every day from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m., with some sporadic staffing scattered throughout the other shifts. Intercept removed or escorted more than 25 vehicles from the inner playa and the city, either to long-term parking near the Gate or back to their camps. The fully operational tow truck proved itself an invaluable part of the Intercept concept, towing nine vehicles to long-term parking.
In 2006, the Intercept squad needs to recruit more bike-mobile Rangers, as bikes are preferable for tracking a vehicle discreetly without increasing a driver’s tendency to speed due to the perception that they are being pursued. Bikes are also essential tools for tracking vehicles within the city streets. In addition, the effectiveness of Intercept’s deep-playa Outpost Zero was marginalized by a lack of generator power. For a second consecutive year, the wireless link to the Department of Mutant Vehicles (DMV) never reached effective operation. This issue will be addressed with the 2006 budget.
Overall, drivers in 2005 seemed to get the message about vehicle safety, as fewer chose to challenge the community-derived standards embodied in Black Rock City’s driving policy. As a result, everyone reaped the benefits of a safe year. The Echelon team has continued to excel in its vital role of supporting Ranger operations. Ranger Headquarters (HQ) and the Outposts were set up in record time, and the Rangers enjoyed the benefits of the Tech Team’s hard work before the event. Check-in/check-out, shift-logging and radio check-out all ran well.
While the Center Camp HQ is the logistical focus for Rangers, the 3 and 9 o’clock outposts have always been “home” for many of them. Tokyo (the 9 o’clock Outpost) has evolved into a theme camp comparable to the others in the neighborhood with its open environment for anyone to come and enjoy or interact with Rangers. This year Berlin (the 3 o’clock Outpost) really came to life through an infusion of new Ranger spirit, improving the group’s presence and raising its profile in the area. All look forward to a continuance of this spirit in 2006.
As in previous years, a skilled and dedicated group of Rangers operated Sanctuary, a quiet place for those needing to take time out from the often hectic pace of life in Black Rock City. While Sanctuary enjoyed a successful year, of Sanctuary’s role is still somewhat misunderstood by our community and by participating agencies on the playa. Rangers hope to better educate these groups in 2006.
The Black Rock Rangers continue to encourage those drawn to the khaki to participate in the ever-improving training and mentoring program. This year training materials, manuals, and numerous trainings across the country inspired and educated a new wave of khaki. The mentoring program continued to sharpen its focus as experienced Rangers worked together to bring this next wave of khaki into the dust. Additionally, the mentoring program has been extended to returning Rangers in an effort to continually improve the ranks.
The Ranger Operations (Ranger OPS) team consists of a group of senior Rangers working with the department head to address operational issues within the organization. The Ranger Council is responsible for addressing all organizational and administrative tasks required to support Ranger Operations throughout the year both off the playa and in Black Rock City. Included in Ranger Council are four Rangers-At-Large (RAL), who are members of the Ranger community selected by the council to participate on a higher level. This year the council decided to lengthen the term of RAL for this role to 2 years in order to allow overlap between the incoming and outgoing representatives and enabling incoming candidates an opportunity to learn the ropes.
In an effort to improve understanding of the thoughts and concerns of the everyday dirt Ranger, the council initiated an online Dirt Ranger Survey and Ranger Retention Survey after the 2005 event. Both surveys were met with enthusiasm, as a large number of Rangers chose to participate and share their opinions with the Ranger Council. This heightened level of communication will ensure a stronger organization and may lead to operational changes in 2006.
A notable success in 2005 was the Rangers’ excellent working relationship with the various law enforcement agencies at Burning Man. In addition, lost-child procedures proved very effective and strengthened support for families participating in Black Rock City’s diverse community.
Burning Man 2005 was not without its share of challenges for the Black Rock Ranger organization. The eviction process did not work as it was designed, resulting in a loss of confidence by law enforcement in Ranger procedures. The Burning Man organization is addressing this issue for 2006. Additional instances emerged where senior Rangers did not follow established operational protocols during the event – a problem that calls for continuing the educational and mentoring process.
By all accounts, Burning Man 2005 was a great year for all involved. As the Burning Man Project continues to mature, the Black Rock Rangers will rise to the challenges they encounter. New skills will help adapt all that the organization has learned over the years to improve service to the evolving community that will inevitably face new khaki-clad volunteers in 2006. The Black Rock Ranger organization is actively dedicated to working with the Burning Man Project to address the shortcomings of 2005 and increase preparations for Burning Man 2006 – Hope and Fear: The Future.
Zac Bolan aka DisKo and Duane Hoover