Black Rock Rangers are Burning Man participants who volunteer time and effort as non-confrontational community mediators. Responding to the continuously evolving nature of the event, Rangers address situations within the community that would otherwise require outside intervention.
The Black Rock Rangers (hence: Rangers) is a volunteer group of Burning Man participants who play a visible role in promoting the safety and well-being of their fellow Black Rock City denizens. The Dirt Rangers, the primary role among the Rangers, patrol Black Rock City in pairs looking out for the safety of participants. Rangers hold perimeters at the Man and other large-scale burns, interface with external agencies, and stand ready to assist participants in resolving camp disputes, summoning medical help when needed, pointing out hazards, and generally helping the citizens of Black Rock City to help themselves and make the most of their experience.
Rangers On Playa – Riding the Edge of Chaos
2007 presented serious challenges to the Rangers. Dirt Rangers responded to a number of more-or- less unplanned events this year, and together with other departments such as the Performance Safety Team, Emergency Services Department and DPW, facilitated some extraordinary experiences without compromising safety.
Among the challenges the Dirt Rangers surmounted this year were:
- Monday night’s arson of the Man. Alert Rangers in the area protected life safety by clearing the pavilion of participants and instinctively forming a perimeter. Within minutes, scores of Rangers, some in their pajamas with their Rangers hats thrown on in haste, responded to the scene, helped to maintain a perimeter and communicate with participants, and lent a calming presence to the chaos. Rangers also assisted in identifying and apprehending the arson suspect. For the rest of the week, an expanded Ranger presence enabled the Man crew, DPW, Community Services and other volunteers to pull off an astounding feat of reconstruction.
- The Crude Awakening Burn. The scale and complexity of this burn presented an enormous challenge to the artists, the Performance Safety Team, and the Rangers. A last minute, safety-based cancellation of the planned burn on Friday night meant double duty for Dirt Rangers on Saturday – two huge, back-to-back burns with little in the way of preparation or instruction. The Rangers rose to the challenge, spending upwards of eight hours on perimeter duty wrangling mutant vehicles, addressing participants’ concerns, and responding to medical emergencies during the burns.
- Other incidents. Rangers assisted artists and law enforcement throughout the week with large-scale burns and occasional medical emergencies. Their flexibility and willingness to help enabled flaming objects to fly through the air to the delight of all present.
These events, particularly the large scale burns, took their toll on Ranger staffing throughout the city. In addition, while the number of Rangers remained constant, the BRC population grew significantly this year, as did participant requests for assistance, both within and outside the scope of the Rangers’ mission. As a result, despite the fact that the Rangers logged more than 10,000 person-hours this year, many shifts were staffed more leanly than the Rangers would have wished, and on several occasions Rangers were summoned off-duty. The issues may have been exacerbated by shorter shift length at the end of the week this year, a pilot program put into place by request of the hard-working Dirt Rangers. This issue has prompted serious examination of (1) the Ranger mission overall, including limiting the scope of Ranger duty to the areas in which we truly have responsibility (i.e., protecting people, not art); (2) more effective recruitment; and (3) retention issues, including making sure Rangers are properly fed and have adequate rest time. The reassuring lesson of 2007 was that no matter what the event throws at the Rangers, they manage to do what they have always done: serve as the eyes and ears of the community, help when needed, assist in large and small ways, and help participants figure out how to help themselves.
The Rangers are intensely proud of the fact that our volunteers hail from all over the world. Our far-flung homes, however, do present a logistical challenge in that each Ranger and prospective Ranger must attend a pre-event training every year. These interactive trainings generally run a full day for prospective and newer Rangers and a half-day training session for veteran Rangers. The trainings take place at Burning Man Headquarters in San Francisco, early in the week at the event itself, and at several regional events, including Burning Flipside (Austin), and Toast (Arizona).
This year, the Rangers added a training session at the SOAK event in Portland, Oregon, bringing the total number of offsite trainings in 2007 to 12. The Ranger training team also revamped the content of the trainings with an eye toward increasing the level of interactivity, and expanded the total number of trainers. For this coming year, the Rangers will continue their efforts to maximize pre-event training opportunities and keep the content of those trainings fresh and relevant.
Rangers and Law Enforcement
Although the Rangers continued their efforts to interact on positive terms with law enforcement and other outside agencies, 2007 saw a spike in citations issued by Bureau of Land Management law enforcement officers, out of proportion to the increase in population. The Rangers also observed that some law enforcement seemed out of synch with the unique nature of the Burning Man event. This development was difficult when compared to relations in 2006.
Rangers will continue their efforts year-round, on and off the playa to address participant concerns in this area and to promote a balance between safeguarding the community and allowing for free expression and peaceful enjoyment of the event by all.
For the past several years, the Rangers have made vehicle safety a priority. The Intercept team operates nightly on the playa to interact with, educate, and when necessary, eject vehicles that are operating outside the guidelines of safety on the playa. Although thinly staffed this year, the Intercept team managed to be quite effective. The efforts of this team in educating participants are clearly paying off.
Echelon and Logistics
Echelon is the logistics and support structure for the Rangers. Ever the unsung heroes, Echelon volunteers perform some of the least glamorous, yet most important work that Rangers do – they build HQ and the Ranger Outposts, they check Rangers and radios in and out, they do paperwork (on their vacation!), ferry people and resources around the playa, and generally take care of the Dirt Rangers, all while fielding inquiries from participants at Ranger HQ.
Ranger HQ was built and operational early this year, despite a minor weather-related setback pre-event. Overall, operations at HQ seemed to function quite smoothly, although under-staffing continues to be an issue. Some of the administrative workload will likely be redistributed in the future.
The Ranger Outposts (Tokyo and Berlin) faced a real challenge this year in terms of placement. Due in part to the new ice stations at the 3:00 and 9:00 plazas and the change in block widths, the outpost camping areas were separated from the outposts themselves, which made it difficult for Rangers to staff the outposts, and difficult for participants in terms of Ranger visibility and accessibility. We anticipate these logistical issues will be worked out by the time we hit the dirt in ’08.
Notwithstanding the placement challenges, ever-present logistical issues, and some personnel turnover, Echelon field operations supported the Rangers superbly this year. Given the appropriate resources, this group can perform wonders.
Sanctuary is a place of refuge for Burning Man participants who, for whatever reasons, are temporarily overwhelmed by their playa experience. Operated under the clinical oversight of the Emergency Services Department and staffed primarily by Rangers with extraordinary listening skills and some background in peer counseling (known as “Green Dot Rangers”), Sanctuary helps dozens of participants each year get through emotional upsets, breakups, bad trips, freakouts, sheer exhaustion, and sometimes, the emotional spillover from very serious incidents.
Sanctuary operated more smoothly than in years past, thanks to a new system of scheduling a Sanctuary Lead per shift. In addition, the Green Dot Rangers placed more of an emphasis on Rangering in the field, with the primary goal of assisting participants in their own camps and utilizing their own resources. The overall impression is that this was a move in the right direction.
Rapid Night Response Team
It is often said that Rangers emerge from the dust when needed, and disappear back into the dust when their task is done. No group embodies that ideal more than the Rapid Night Response (“RNR”) team, a group of extraordinary swift-thinking and -acting bike-mobile Rangers who operate on the graveyard shift. This year, the RNR team benefited greatly from an energetic addition to its leadership team. The approximately 10 RNR Rangers were crucial this year in meeting the needs of participants on the very leanly-staffed graveyard shifts. The RNR team will be looking to add to its ranks and thereby increase its coverage capability in the future.