In 2010, the Gate, Perimeter and Exodus crew successfully processed a record number of people in and out of Black Rock City. Thanks to a solid team of veterans and newbies, setup, early arrivals, and event week operations went better than ever before. Though this department excels at handling unexpected situations, we have become better at planning for the expected chaos, and this has had a positive effect on our staff and the participants.
2010 also marked a year of significant changes in the Gate, Perimeter and Exodus layout and operations. As with any new implementation, some ended up working better than others, and it is through these experiences that new ideas and improvements are born. Each year we discover improvements concerning traffic management, which we will be looking again to address in 2011.
The first change that participants experienced was the new layout of Gate Road. Unfortunately, we concluded that this configuration of Gate Road did not substantially alter the amount of dust blown into the city from Gate Road, though it may have had an impact on which parts of the city were dustier than others. In 2011, we will consider another redesign of the layout of Gate Road and the placement of the Gate. We will face the challenge of balancing the need for a Gate Road long enough to keep traffic from backing up on the highway, with the desire to reduce dust into the city. Since the event stipulations dictate that traffic must access the playa from the 8-mile entrance, Gate Road is necessarily to the south of BRC and some amount of dust will travel from that road into the city. Much of the dust is kicked up when participants drive too fast, so we will continue to remind people to drive no more than 5-10 mph on the playa.
We have seen over the last several years an increase in the number of people who arrive during the initial rush period after the Gate officially opens, and this onslaught taxes our staff and creates longer lines for the participants. For 2010 we requested flexibility in the opening time as a way to address the all-night backup that results from a midnight opening. We will be reassessing the opening plan for 2011, taking into consideration safety issues, staffing needs, and when BRC is ready to receive participants.
In 2011 we will continue our community education campaign around arrival issues: 1) showing up before the Gate opens taxes the resources of Black Rock City that are not ready to receive participants; 2) waiting along the side of the highway or in Gerlach before opening creates huge safety hazards and should not be done; and 3) long lines during peak times are expected, and participants should either travel during non-peak hours or pack an extra dose of patience.
In 2010 we secured a large, solar-powered road sign to address the lack of effective signage in previous years. Not just a cool toy, it significantly improved our ability to communicate an array of messages to participants. We plan to bring this back in 2011, along with additional informational and instructional signs to help participants know where to go and what to do.
[abimage file=Playaman_40896_w.jpg fmt=land align=left]Perimeter had another smooth and successful year in 2010, helping lost souls who “missed” the Gate find their way back to it. Interest in working Perimeter shifts was at an all time high, and the dedicated and seasoned crew of shift leads showed their expertise at managing the borders of the event. We continue to conduct trials of new technology, designed to further assist Perimeter operations. The biggest challenge for Perimeter in 2010 was the impact of a complex new vendor delivery process, however it was a learning year and we look forward to participating in the redesign of this process for 2011.
2010 was a huge year for Exodus. We successfully implemented Pulsing (the practice of allowing vehicles to sit stationary on Gate Road and then pulsing them forward in groups once per hour) from 10am to 6pm on Sunday and Monday of the Exodus period. Feedback has been mainly positive from participants and staff alike. Instead of doing the three hour creep down Gate Road, we saw participants out of their vehicles, sometimes playing Frisbee or having impromptu dance parties, or simply using the time to take a break from driving. After several years in the works, it was awesome to see this process implemented. We will work to smooth out the few remaining wrinkles in 2011 (more porta-potties, longer hours of pulsing operations, better communication about the process).
We want to again clarify that Pulsing does not reduce the amount of time it takes to get from BRC to the highway – the goal is to make the experience more positive by reducing the amount of stop and go. The major challenge for Exodus continues to be finding enough folks who want to volunteer with us at the end of the event – come be a flagger or pulser with us next year and experience the fun first hand.
[abimage file=Honito_38750_w.jpg fmt=land]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 home via a rural Nevada highway. Each year we receive requests to open up more exits from the playa to the highway, however, this would not be feasible as it conflicts with our mandate to not overwhelm local towns like Gerlach. 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.
Throughout the whole department we placed additional focus on fun and crew morale, which made it a more enjoyable year for our team, and we hope to continue this trend in 2011. Our Support Services team, tasked with delivering food, transporting staff, and generally taking care of our volunteers, continued to rock our world. After years of consideration, we finally implemented a formal training/mentoring program to give new volunteers hands on training before their first shift. Our volunteers and trainers were very pleased with the outcome, and we look forward to expanding and improving the program in 2011.
Understaffing continues to be one of this department’s biggest challenges. We had over 2500 shift slots on our schedule, and even at times when our shifts are full, unexpected weather or traffic can mean we are stretched thin. We will continue to reach out to volunteers and participants in 2011 to increase our staffing levels. If you’ve ever experienced a long line at the Gate or during Exodus, don’t complain! YOU can make the process better by volunteering.
We wish to extend appreciation to the Gate, Perimeter, and Exodus staff for their hard work and dedication to getting the job done under any circumstances and in any conditions, especially those who return year after year to do it all again.
Kristy Evans & Seth Schrenzel