In 2015, a reorganization effort resulted in elimination of Burning Man’s Playa Safety Manager position. The Department of Mutant Vehicles team moved under Community Services, making DMV the thirteenth Community Services team.
We also created a new Volunteer Leadership Council to explore the next steps in our ongoing support of Burning Man’s essence as a volunteer-driven organization, and to continue to teach the values and practices vital to all our volunteer-run operations.
Burner Express Bus
The 2015 Burner Express program was an overall success and had the smoothest year to date. In its third year, the program bused participants from the San Francisco Bay Area and Reno to Black Rock City. A total of 3,884 participants rode the bus into Black Rock City, while 3,334 participants used the Express during Exodus. As in previous years riders benefitted from a dedicated bus lane at the Gate, using Point 1 during Exodus, a dedicated team at the BxB Depot for greeting and other logistics, and reserved camping in “HOVerlandia”. Roughly 250 participants camped in the reserved space and it has begun to take on a theme camp feel of its own.
New in 2015, participants with Will Call Burning Man tickets were able to pick up their tickets at their embarkation point prior to boarding the bus. This was wildly successful and resulted in less than 10 minute processing times at the Gate with very few specialty cases that needed to be addressed at the Box office. Additionally, several theme camps chartered buses which dropped participants off directly at their camps. While some logistics need to be further developed, the charter program has potential to expand. Finally, the new office container at the BxB depot facilitated easy check-in for participants, a place for lost and found items, and an convenient working space for the staff.
Opportunities for improvement include expansion to additional cities, providing water and/or bikes to riders, and expanding hours of operation to offer more booking options.
Gerlach-Empire Shuttle Bus
Total shuttle bus ridership increased 45%, from 85 passengers in 2014, to 123 in 2015. One possible reason was an increase in promotion within Black Rock City, with new signage at the 3 O’clock and 9 O’clock public information kiosks. The bus depot has a large banner sign on front and back, as well as flags, making it more easily located and identified. We added solar-powered lights this year to highlight our location even during non-operational evening hours. The last runs of the day had very low ridership numbers, which we will consider in future scheduling. Our staff worked very well with patrons, not only selling the shuttle tickets, but to assist those in search of BRC locations.
Department of Mutant Vehicles
In 2015, the Adornment and Beautification Crew developed a plan for the look of the DMV – to create an oasis in the middle of the desert:. they built a greeters station that looked like an old fashioned 1950’s-era gas station complete with pin-up calendar. They incorporated the main office container into the gas station theme, and built a life-sized mudflap girl light fixture.
We improved shift lead training and are creating good bench strength. Volunteers are stepping up with new ideas and ways to improve the volunteer experience. We created criteria and job descriptions for council membership. We met the challenge of addressing BLM and Burning Man safety concerns regarding safe fuel storage, the movement of large, playa-only vehicles, trailers and the use of lasers.
DMV was definitely the place to be on the opening Sunday of the event. The social team arranged an art car ride on the Monaco and the turnout was as phenomenal as the hosts were wonderful. The opening party was the best one DMV has thrown and it increased our reputation as a fantastic team. Other happy hours went off well, but the Sunday party/Monaco ride was one of the highlights for many volunteers.
One particular success was the Deep-playa Music Zone, or “DMZ”, which was created in concert with Mutant Vehicle owners, the city planning team and Burning Man Arts. After an uneven start, we definitely saw it mitigate public safety and sanitation issues for large-scale, long-term Mutant Vehicle parties on playa.
Biking in off the 6 o’clock portal, playa participants could enter the Cafe through the legs of “Becoming Human” by Christian Ristow – an amazing 30-foot tall metal robot that lifted a flower to his face for a sniff every half hour or so.
Once inside the café, passing through the amazing new art pieces, lucky folks got to play with many performance acts including The Vampirates, who, when not performing for the moshing masses, also work on the Black Rock City Gate and DPW crews! We’re also very excited about the new ADA ramp built by volunteers that is a welcome addition to the Spoken Word Stage.
New for this year at the Coffee Shop, we found an organic, free trade chai from a great “mom and pop” source in Oregon and it was a hit. Participants drank more chai on playa than in any previous year! Back by popular demand, the zigzagging line system kept our baristas running and the caffeine flowing!
Earth Guardians have continued to expand our mission from outreach on Leave No Trace outdoor ethics to keeping Black Rock City sustainable by using volunteer teams and BRC camp events to inspire and provide a learning hub for participants. This year we offered participants off-playa LNT and DIY workshops and crafted LNT swag made from recycled materials to gift on playa. We also developed a new volunteer/camp website and blog and continued outreach via the Jackrabbit Speaks and posts to our growing Facebook page.
In BRC, we had daily events including geology workshops, a kids puppet show, plastic reduction and zero waste workshops, Aztec dancing, music, gatherings, and bike tours on nature and green camps. The pavilion served as a showcase in reuse and easy construction without wood or holes in the playa. On the volunteer side, we continued to expand our shifts, teams and outreach efforts. Our major volunteer efforts include LNT outreach and BLM compliance, hot spring patrols and animal release, MOOP train, alternative energy garden, event and camp operations support, and front desk. Overall the year was very successful with our teams working together to promote BRC as a sustainable, green temporary city. In 2016, we would like to collaborate more with other infrastructure groups on continuing to make Black Rock City more sustainable.
Playa Info, returning to its 2013 high of more than 130 volunteers, had a successful year in combining all Burning Man information resources under one roof as well as reaching beyond Black Rock City. The Directory was made responsive and made available via Wi-Fi to participants’ mobile devices. Lost & Found vastly decreased wait times due to continued operational process improvements, particularly by adding a found item lookup via the Directory to search for IDs by encrypted name, and look up baggage by photos — instead of waiting in long lines to determine lost item status.
For the fifth year running, there was virtually no downtime for the approximately 30 Directory terminals, despite the playa’s high dust and heat. The new after-hours found item drop box was used to capacity and a dedicated building for Lost & Found maximized security. Volunteer coordinators extended recruitment and opportunities for new volunteer involvement as well as on-playa training. Thanks to our Outreach Lead’s efforts throughout the year, we cross-fertilized information with other Burning Man departments. Also, 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, Pre-compression, and Decompression events.
Key improvements are planned for 2016. Volunteer recruitment and engagement efforts continue to be a top priority to offset turnover and increase staff to match BRC population increases — particularly for the busy event weekend and break down shifts. The lost and found system, tools, and efforts are continuously being enhanced. Communication of important Burning Man information and Playa Info’s services will continue through multiple channels to reach BRC citizens. The Directory will enable lookup for more found item types. The Playa Info Ambassadors will be better identified and they will continue expanding work with other Burning Man groups such as Rangers to interactively communicate important information with participants during the event. And we will further improve remote, pre-event and on-playa volunteer training.
Air Playa Info
Air Playa Info volunteers at Reno International Airport provide information on Burner Express buses, popular resources, air travel to BRC, maps, directions, ridesharing, and trash/recycling. The Reno Airport Authority reported approximately 17,000 Burners traveled through the airport to Black Rock City in 2015, including travelers from 30+ countries. Burner Express was well received by the Authority. A Burning Man art exhibit and BMHQ’s Mini Man were again very well received. Relaying delayed luggage deliveries by airlines to the BRC Box Office worked well.
For 2015, we recruited two additional co-leads to assist with volunteer recruitment, coordination, and operations. Volunteers will receive increased education about information to be shared and about third-party commercial solicitations at or near Air Playa Info, and reporting them to the Airport Authority. For 2016, we plan to increase Air Playa Info’s visibility and attractiveness, such as by bringing one or two interactive art installations and décor. The team also plans to obtain additional laptops to increase participants’ access to the Playa Info Directory.
For 2015 Arctica expanded each of the three ice sales locations by an additional bay, making room for one more trailer, two additional registers and supporting crew at each site. The result was faster moving lines and more shifts available for our fabulous volunteers.
Center Camp Arctica grew to four trailer bays, which allowed the right and left sides to work independently. Each side worked from their own trailer. With one line coming in, our Greeters directed participants to the next open cashier. During shift changes, trailer replacements or technical difficulties, the lines never had to stop moving.
The generous tips participants left in our jars were donated to three worthy causes: Polar Bear International, the Gerlach Senior & Community Center and the Washoe County Family Planning Clinic.
Volunteer Resource Team
The Volunteer Resource Team (VRT) is the volunteer hub of Black Rock City. Stationed at “The V Spot”, we acculturate Burners with volunteer opportunities, educate about volunteerism, and help a plethora of Burning Man teams, art projects, and theme camps to maintain their schedules. We had 2,299 visitors to the V Spot and connected 1,117 of them with volunteer opportunities. We sent 794 to Burning Man teams, 155 to theme camps, 158 to art projects, as well as sending countless people to MOOP duty.
There is now far more awareness of our team throughout the organization and with participants, especially among artists. We were sending volunteers who were done with their Burning Man team projects to work on the Temple, Mazu and other art projects, keeping people busy during build week!
The VRT hosts appreciation events throughout the year, and we throw a special little shindig on playa for the Volunteer Coordinators, which had a great turnout. Our team members really showed up this year, with the completion of our V-Deck project, new signage, the fastest set-up time ever, and simply a fantastic, fun, and effective team.
Volunteerism is what makes BRC go ‘round.
In all, 2015 saw 850 Greeters welcoming participants home. There were approximately 325 pre-scheduled general Greeters, and a large number (~50) of “walk-up” volunteers. These walk-up Greeters are trained on the spot and usually continue greeting for many years. Some of the best and long-lasting Greeters actually began as walk-up Greeters. 18 theme camps greeted as a group, bringing in another 425 individual Greeters. Theme Camps take over either an entire shift or a portion of a shift.
Lamplighters have the best volunteers, and we gain great new ones every year. We had 130 people who met our volunteer criteria to camp in the LL village in 2015. We were challenged when three experienced managers were not able to attend the event this year, but the pool of willing volunteers to cover their roles was amazing, and they did an awesome job. Past issues sharing kerosene with other departments were resolved. The interdepartmental communication and cooperation is the best it has ever been. This year we needed 210 volunteers to light Black Rock City’s 319 lamp spires with 792 lanterns every night. Additional locations like art projects, the Airport and our village brings our lit lantern count up to 917. Having hard-working, dedicated volunteers makes the job easy. Many hands do make light work!
BMIR – Burning Man Information Radio
As homage to the first Burning Man theme camp (Christmas Camp), BMIR decided to take a left turn at the Carnival of Mirrors and bring a holiday theme to the playa. Decked out with 10-foot tall candy canes and loads of twinkling lights, BMIR staff were delighted to find gifts left by the citizens of Black Rock City every morning under the station’s 7-foot tall Christmas tree.
As always, BMIR is a destination for citizens seeking the gift of information and entertainment BMIR brings to Black Rock City. Featuring a wide variety of music, news and interviews, burn information and more, BMIR continues to be the dominant force in playa broadcasting.
This was our fifth year exchanging crew with WORTHY-FM, the Glastonbury Festival radio station, and Phil Hall, who calls Denmark home, joined the BMIR crew on the playa. BMIR continued to host the Billion Bunny March, a live Jerk Church broadcast, the annual Meet The Artist Art Tour, and a party honoring the folks who run the BRC Airport. BMIR had over 200 theme camp and event announcements on the air. Over 10,000 people worldwide tuned in to the BMIR stream on Burn night. BMIR was available over the air in BRC and on the internet via iHeart Radio as well as the BMIR website, iPhone and Android apps.
BMIR continues to be one of a handful of camps that are truly open to the public 24/7 all event long. Our burn barrel is always burning, DJs are always live and we are always up and welcoming whoever wanders into our lounge seeking information, a cool drink, conversation, or just a place to rest their bones for a while. BMIR is truly the voice of Black Rock City.
All in all 2015 stood out as a smooth and fantastic year for the Placement Team. The team is comprised of the the placers, the flaggers, the Placement Production assistant, the department liaison and the Community Services Manager who are able to work collaboratively and efficiently as they perform a detailed and unique service in Black Rock City.
2015 began with the Directed Group Sale of tickets for Theme Camps in good standing. This program continues to be a successful mechanism to offer ticket purchasing opportunities for participants who provide a significant interactive contribution to Black Rock City.
Next came the Theme Camp forum, a well-attended event that brings Theme Camp leads together to access current information and have questions answered as they meet, mingle and learn from each other.
The Technology Department supported the Placement Team more than ever before in 2015. A new database was created to facilitate the Placement questionnaire review process. The team considered over 1,300 Placed Camp questionnaires. Despite the volume of questionnaires, having to learn a new database, a new email system, new mailing lists and a new newsletter distribution system, the team adapted quickly and carried out their tasks and responsibilities with aplomb. Continuing in the spirit of new and different, the Placement department liaison and mapping volunteer made progress towards creating uniform camp plans for all of the department camps to assist the build teams in charge of construction within Black Rock City.
Despite the weather on playa, the Placement Team fulfilled their responsibilities without incident in 2015. The team relies heavily on others for the necessary resources (e.g. golf carts) to perform their tasks, but collaboration and great attitudes made sure all of the 1,150 camps were placed in a timely fashion.
Our post-event debrief focused on how we can improve our support technologies and how we can further streamline our processes as the number of camps continues to increase.
Theme Camp evaluation as it relates to the access to the Directed Group Sale remains the final task of the Placement Team and we will be offering some extra guidance for a few camps who fell short of “good standing”, to help them up their interactivity for the benefit of Black Rock City.
In 2015, the Black Rock City Municipal Airport (BRCMA), included a requirement that pilots pass a test and pre-register at our website – now airport.burningman.org – in order to land. This was part of our gearing up for a 30% increase in passenger traffic. In fact, 2,330 Burners entered the event through the Airport gate in 2015, even more than expected. However, lines were shorter and safety was even better than in 2014 due to advanced planning and the hard work of BRC staff.
The Airport was inspected for safety several times not only by the BRC Safety team but also by the Nevada Department of Transportation, the BLM, and, most importantly the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The Airport passed all inspections with flying colors and even held a fire drill. The FAA reported that we needed a new weather station (which we are buying for 2016), but also that we did not need a professional Air Traffic Control system, since the way our volunteer staff was working was actually safer, especially given the difficult playa conditions. These inspections included our busiest days when we had about 210 landings per day. The BRCMA is one of the busiest airports in the US when our not-so-little city is coming and going. We hope to make air travel to the event even easier and more affordable in the future.
Black Rock City’s Yellow Bike Program provides free community bicycles to mobilize the citizens of Black Rock City. In addition to providing guidance to the community on cycling culture in BRC and tips for selecting appropriate Burning Man bikes, we provided more than 600 yellow bikes for the 2015 Burn. We expanded the fleet with 180 donated Huffy Cranbrooks this year (which included stripping, painting, and reassembling) all done before we even hit playa.
Of the 631 Yellow Bikes we put out this year: 527 (84%) good Yellow Bikes were returned (aka not decorated/painted), 56 (9%) painted Yellow Bikes were returned, 28 (4%) decorated Yellow Bikes were returned, for a TOTAL of 611 (97%) Yellow Bikes returned — which means we only lost 20 (3%) Yellow Bikes to theft!
Abandoned participant bikes are unwanted MOOP, and like everything else participants bring in, should be responsibly removed by their owners. This year 1,625 abandoned bikes were collected on playa post-event. We convert what we can into the Yellow Bike Fleet. Those bikes that could not be converted were donated to various charitable organizations, including the Kiwanis Club and the Reno Bike Project. At the close of this year’s season, we were left with more than 200 Huffy Cranbrook frames to enter into the 2016 Yellow Bike fleet, thanks largely to participant donations.
BRC’s only recycling center for participants returned to educate the masses about the benefits of sorting your trash on the playa and in the rest of the world. It is our mission to collect as many aluminum cans as possible in one week. In 2015, participants again filled two 30-yard dumpsters with crushed aluminum cans. That’s approximately 170,000 cans or just over 5,000 pounds. From the proceeds, a donation of $1,500 was made to the Gerlach School.
Recycle Camp hosted over 35 campers this year, with a great mix of old timers and some new faces as well! Everyone worked well together and set up was well ahead of schedule. Our pre-event project of upgrading our shade was a huge success. All of the upgrades we added last year held up well and continue to serve us well. Post-event strike went according to plan and we were off the playa right on schedule. This year we brought our Crushinator off-playa to do some much needed maintenance for 2016. Recycle Camp had a super smooth year overall.