After several changes in the department’s leadership early in the year, the Gate, Perimeter, and Exodus crew returned to the playa in 2009 better prepared than ever before. While still relying on our seasoned staff of shift leads and long-time volunteers as the backbone of our operations, we continued to rework our recruitment efforts to address understaffing issues. Though we experienced a few hiccups along the way, 2009 was another successful year and established yet again our ability to get the job done under any circumstances and in any conditions.
In 2009, we made significant improvements to our volunteer support and management. We have taken on more year round volunteers dedicated to this process, which has resulted in a state-of-the-art online scheduling and management system, better care of our volunteers while on shift, and our very own full-size bus dedicated to transporting our crew to their shifts outside of the trash fence. In 2010 we plan to make a renewed effort to support a better balance of work and fun for our volunteers and crew; after all, this is Burning Man.
Setup of our operations this year went very smoothly, from setting up the Gate and building the lots, to laying miles of cones across the open desert along Gate Road. Logistical improvements across the organization helped us get set up (and do the rest of our job) better. Our communication and coordination with other Burning Man departments has greatly improved and will continue to do so.
The early arrival process, after a few technical glitches, went according to plan. Each year, we continue to make adjustments and improvements to the system, and we look forward to the interdepartmental coordination that will refine the backend of this process in 2010.
Opening night went as well as could be expected. Traffic flow was planned much more carefully, resulting in staff and participants knowing where they should go. We were much better prepared to handle the participants that showed up too early, by initiating a special staging lot to get them off the highway. The lot did manage to hold everyone who arrived before midnight, and we spent the next nine hours processing them into the event. There were issues concerning the fairness of how we emptied this lot, and we will continue to examine how best to balance issues of fairness, safety and the requirements of our permit (though we believe this issue will be solved because you will not show up so early, right?). We will continue our community education campaign regarding this issue, spreading the message about how (and why) showing up before the Gate opens increases participants’ delay getting into the event, adding to everyone’s stress.
We faced an additional challenge with some early arrivers who thought they were being clever by waiting along the side of the highway or in Gerlach in order to time their arrival for the midnight opening. This has the potential to cause major safety issues, and in 2010 we face the challenge of how to discourage this behavior.
One of the other major recurring issues is the large concentration of people showing up to the event site in the first 12 hours of opening. This causes delays and backups that can be frustrating for everyone, and there are limits as to how quickly we can process vehicles into the event. Therefore, we encourage participants to pack an extra dose of patience and humor if they plan to arrive in the first hours of opening. We know participants are eager to enter Black Rock City, but as with Exodus, the best way to reduce the wait time is for participants to spread out their arrivals over the course of the first day or two of the event. In 2010, we hope some people will opt for an additional night of sleep rather than brave the long line, though we will be ready either way.
Perimeter was in full swing 24 hours a day for the duration of the event, helping find lost souls who “missed” the Gate find their way back to it. For the Perimeter team, 2009 saw further fine tuning of the process of managing our event’s borders. For the second year, we experienced the joy of using fleet vehicles for all Perimeter operations. This allowed each Perimeter vehicle to be stocked with all the required technology, allowing for smooth shift changes. Trials were also conducted of several new technologies designed to further assist Perimeter operations, with some showing promise and being staged for a larger deployment next year, and others not performing well enough to be adopted on a larger basis.
Overall, the number of potential participants attempting to enter the event via less-than-responsible means has been steadily declining year after year. This is likely due to a changing population demographic and the effectiveness of the department in dealing with would-be participants in previous years.
It was another great year for Exodus, which, after a transition year in 2008, is now an established member of the Gate/Perimeter/Exodus family, and this has provided access to much needed resources and staffing. Participants again spread out their departures over the course of three days (instead of the usual mass-rush on Sunday and Monday mornings). Exodus travel times from the city to the gravel at Highway 34 rarely exceeded three hours. Highway flaggers were out in force, and we had more Exiters in the lanes directing traffic. Updates to BMIR were regular and accurate.
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 via a rural Nevada highway with limited carrying capacity. No matter how we arrange operations on the playa, 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. The community did that in 2008 and 2009, and we hope to see that continue in the years to come.
The major challenge for Exodus continues to be volunteer staffing levels… it’s hard after a week in the desert to commit to working dusty shifts on Gate Road. But, for those that have the strength, it is also very rewarding to be the last face of Burning Man for thousands of dusty denizens. We have, for years now, been trying to find enough volunteers to implement vehicle staging and pulsing… to “Green the Exodus.” We need your help in 2010 to make this dream a reality – volunteer with us!
Thanks to all of the Gate, Perimeter, and Exodus staff for their hard work, dedication, and sense of humor in the most trying of situations. They volunteer their time to do a difficult job, and they manage to have fun doing it. And thanks to the participants for their understanding, support, and patience, especially to those who shared a few kind words or the occasional gift of a cold drink – it went a long way in keeping the staff’s spirits up. The behavior of the participants is always an integral part of our success.
We look forward to doing it all again in 2010.
Kristy Evans and Seth Schrenzel