Bugs on the Playa: Don’t Believe the Buzz

(Image maybe made by j0k3rCPG, maybe by elizabeth, but this is the internet, so who the hell knows?)

If you’ve been keeping up on the latest rumors flying around the internet, people are in a bit of a frenzy about an alleged bug infestation of plague-level proportions on the Black Rock Desert this year. We understand the eagerness to swarm around this click-worthy story, as the media most certainly has. We’re here to dispel the rumors (bless you, internet), provide some facts, and hopefully calm some nerves.

So are there bugs in Black Rock City? Yes. Due to unseasonably wet weather, the grass on the hills is unusually verdant, and that’s resulted in more bugs showing up in the desert than usual. There are green beetles called stink bugs (so-called because they emit a coriander-like odor when disturbed), mosquitos, and gnat-like seed bugs called Nysius. One entomologist reports that they might be causing skin irritations not because they’re biting, but because they’ve likely been eating mustard seed, which has been proliferating in the region recently, and the mustard oil irritates the skin when the bugs are smashed.

But despite the rampant rumors, these bugs are more of a mild nuisance than a full-blown infestation that should cause any major concern with Burning Man participants.

We’re hoping that continuing hot weather and a huge swarm of Burners descending upon their Black Rock Desert home sends them packing before long, but we can’t say for sure that’ll happen. So here’s how you can prepare (y’know, Radical Self-reliance and stuff) …

We’re told that these types of bugs are particularly attracted to bright lights (sorry, artists burning the midnight oil) and dark clothing (sorry, Death Guild), so if you’re concerned about getting bugged, wear light-colored clothing that provides good coverage. For the mosquitos, some mosquito repellent will do the trick. That’s the word from the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health.

On another bug-related note, there have been recent reports of West Nile Virus showing up in mosquitoes in Northern Nevada this summer — one in South Meadows (south of Reno), and one at Rye Patch Reservoir (near Lovelock) — and abatement procedures are underway. None have been found within proximity of Gerlach or the Black Rock Desert this year. Here are the most recent reports from Pershing County and Washoe County health departments. While of course there’s the remote possibility of exposure (to provide some perspective, here’s a map of all the current West Nile Virus activity in the US), we believe that this is extraordinarily unlikely to affect Burning Man participants.

In the end, we’ll remind you that Radical Self-reliance is a thing. We tell you every year to be prepared for damn near anything, and this time? We’ve got a new, interesting challenge. Welcome to it. We’ll see you on playa.

Harm Reduction: Take a Smart Approach to Drugs and Alcohol

The Zendo (Photo by Philippe Glade)

The Zendo (Photo by Philippe Glade)

Burning Man takes place on federal land. All local, state and federal laws apply in Black Rock City, and they are enforced by law enforcement officers at the event. Drugs, whether legal or illegal, can be dangerous on their own, and, like any city, Black Rock City is not immune to the dangers of intentional assault involving drugs and alcohol. Given these realities, Burning Man and its organizational partners in health and safety, including law enforcement, believe in the importance of harm reduction when it comes to drugs and alcohol on the playa.

Avoiding the Dangers

The highest priority of harm reduction is to mitigate the dangers of assault or accidental overdose. Even doses of drugs that are not physically dangerous, including legal prescriptions, can be psychologically harmful or overwhelming if taken unknowingly. Here are some important points to remember:

  • Bring your own water wherever you go.
  • If you don’t know what’s in something, it’s best not to drink or eat it.
  • There have been very few incidents of intentional dosing with intent to assault — sometimes referred to as “date rape” — at the event. But, it is important for all participants to be aware of this risk and exercise appropriate caution.
  • If you do feel yourself becoming ill, tell a friend what you’ve taken so they can share that information with medical personnel.
  • If you feel like you have been dosed without your knowledge, immediately call for help or call for a Black Rock Ranger.
  • If you see someone who appears to be overly intoxicated, ask them if they need help. If they do, or if you don’t think they’re in a state to answer safely, get help. Black Rock Rangers can be easily identified (they wear khaki) and are prevalent in all parts of BRC — they are always willing to help. You can also ask anyone wearing a radio.
  • If you or someone you’re with is feeling overwhelmed, don’t worry. There are lots of services in Black Rock City to support you. The Sanctuary team of the Black Rock Rangers and the Emergency Services Department (ESD) mental health team are trained to help people going through challenging emotional or psychological processes. There are also participant-run camps providing trained volunteer support, such as the Zendo Project located at 2:45 & A and 9:15 & D (download this sweet flyer and spread the word). These groups offer safe spaces around Black Rock City for people going through such experiences. Seek them out.
  • Call law enforcement for assistance or to report a crime. Wave down a law enforcement vehicle, or go to the substation on the Esplanade at 6:30.

Remember, Black Rock City is our community, and we need to look out for each other.

BRC Street Plan Design Competition: Cool, but Totally Unofficial

(Photo by Ron Lussier)

(Photo by Ron Lussier)

We recently caught wind of a Black Rock City Street Plan Design Competition hosted by an experienced group of participants calling themselves the Black Rock City Ministry of Urban Planning (BRCMUP). The Burning Man organization has nothing to do with it, but we thought, hey, this could be fun to watch. And then an architecture blog called ArchDaily wrote about the competition on August 16 without doing its journalism homework, so now we have to clear a couple things up.

Burning Man is not involved with this competition, and we aren’t “select[ing] a winner”. The BRCMUP organizers never said we were, either. They say they’ll present their winner to us, and then it’s up to us what we do with it. So the ArchDaily blog post was in error, and it has since been corrected.

As for the contest itself, the official description is worded pretty strongly:

“The final choice of design will rest with bmorg [sic] based on a combination of popularity, logistics and space considerations (including the option to retain the current city plan).”

We love the ingenuity of Burners and are curious to see what they come up with through this competition. We will certainly take a look at all the top designs in this competition, not just the winner, out of curiosity and admiration. The ideas generated by this competition could also be useful to Regional Events, which are in various stages of growth and planning, each with their own location’s design challenges, and we think that’s great. But there are no plans to redesign Black Rock City.

Thanks to BRCMUP for starting an interesting conversation, and we look forward to seeing what comes of it.

Announcing the Burning Man Ticket Transfer Tool!

"It would please me very much if you were to have this ticket." (Photo by Fazlul Bari, Creative Commons)
“It would please me very much if you were to have this ticket.” (Photo by Fazlul Bari, Creative Commons)

We’re beyond excited to introduce you to the new self-serve Ticket Transfer tool, available through your Ticketfly account. Ticket Transfer allows you to assign any transfer-eligible ticket or vehicle pass in a Will Call order to a specific person. With Ticket Transfer:

  • you can assign items in your order to different people.
  • the need for any other name change request emails or paperwork or presentation of name change paperwork at the Box Office is eliminated!
  • once an item is transferred to someone, they can pick it up with their ID at the Box Office, no need to perform an in-person “hold” at the Box Office.
  • recipients are provided more security—transfers are one-way and once transferred, the recipient is the owner of the item. The recipient can transfer items on to others as well.

Hooray! You can find full details and instructions here.

Here Comes the Rain Again — Are You Ready?

(Photo by Scott London)

(Photo by Scott London)

OK folks, so we’ve had some unseasonably late rain in northern Nevada this year. Small sections of Highway 447 were washed out last month, and in early August the DPW survey team evacuated the playa when storms swept through the area. If you remember 2014’s 12-hour Gate closure (we sure do), you’ll know why we feel it’s important to share our best tips for preparing for rain on your parade.

Probably the most important tip is, if you see rain coming, tune in to BMIR 94.5 FM for the latest news and updates on what to plan for. (You did pack a battery-powered radio, right?) Burning Man has its own weather tracking team who will be feeding the latest updates to BMIR, which will continue its no-snark news broadcasts at the top of every hour.

Here are the top tips for dealing with rain:

  • Batten down your camp. (Rain is almost always accompanied by high winds, which will blow anything unattended into the next county.) This includes tents, shade structures, lawn chairs, clothing, paper plates and napkins, beer cans, or anything else that could potentially get blown away in a sudden, fierce windstorm.
  • Shelter in place until the worst of it is over. And make sure your campmates have a safe and dry place to shelter, too. Don’t go out dancing in the rain if there is lightning.
  • Protect all food, medicine, bedding and clothing from getting wet. There is nothing worse than trying to sleep in a wet sleeping bag. Speaking of food and medicine, be sure to bring extra on the chance you may be stuck on site for a period of time if it rains during Exodus.
  • Turn off and cover generators or anything generating electricity. Also beware of extension cords and cables that run through puddles — lift them onto anything off the ground, like a wooden block.
  • Store fuel safely. Make sure any stored fuel is above ground and in some sort of secondary containment to keep it away from water.
  • Don’t climb on any structures in a severe rain storm (really, that should go without saying, because lightning).
  • Don’t drive your car or Mutant Vehicle on the wet playa — all vehicles must stop moving. Driving on wet playa destroys the road system and creates ruts. Also, it is very possible you’ll get stuck.
  • Same goes for riding your bike. Within seconds, your tires will collect wet clay and quickly seize solid with about 5″ (and 10 pounds) of thick clay-like mud making it impossible for the tires to rotate.
  • If you absolutely have to walk around, duct tape heavy-duty trash bags to your shoes to minimize what can immediately become “playa platforms” on the bottom of your shoes as the layers of wet clay accumulate with each step you take.

Lastly, in the event of extended rain, pumping trucks will have trouble servicing the toilets and the porta-potties will fill up. You’ll need your own place to go. The solution? A Poop Bucket™! Making a poop bucket is old skool Burnertastic, and super simple. You’ll want:

  • A five gallon bucket with a lid (you’ll really want the lid)
  • Heavy-duty garbage bags (compactor bags are the best)
  • Some kitty litter (or sawdust)
  • A pool noodle (if you want to get all fancy)
(Image credit: Prepper Journal)
(Image credit: Prepper Journal)

The pool noodle (cut halfway through to its center point) fits nicely around the lip of the bucket and provides some cush for your tush. Line the bucket with a garbage bag, toss in an appropriate handful of some kitty litter for odor control and absorption and keep the lid on it until you need to use again. Don’t let any single garbage bag get too full (you really don’t want them breaking when you remove them). When the first gets partially full, seal it and place the next bag on top of the sealed one and use it. Poop bucket savants thread the toilet paper roll through the metal handle of the bucket, so it’s right where you need it at all times. Some people have been known to bring a toilet seat instead of the “pool noodle”. Either way, you’ll want to be prepared for just such an emergency.

Remember you need to take that “shit” with you when you leave — do NOT under any circumstances leave this mess for others to deal with. Don’t even think of bringing ANY materials from your Poop Bucket into the commercial porta potties (the mantra: if it wasn’t in your body, don’t put it in the potty! Otherwise the pumping machines get clogged). Also, human waste cannot go in dumpsters. So dispose of your Poop Bucket materials in the appropriate location (this is why you have the bucket lid — HELLA duct tape that thing on there for the ride home).

As you can see, Burning Man is fun and all, but preparing for the playa is no joke. Please remember the desert environment can be extreme. Strong gusts of wind, high temperatures during the day, cold at night, and yes, sometimes it rains. And rain is a serious matter in the Black Rock Desert. Read and review the information above, share it with your friends and campmates, and we’ll see you out there!

Sexual Assault Resources Available in Black Rock City

[This is the second in a series of blog posts addressing sexual assault, sexual harassment, and the importance of consent in the Burning Man community.]

(Photo: Todd Gardiner)

(Photo: Todd Gardiner)

In the horrible event that you or a friend are the victim of a sexual assault at Burning Man, you are not alone out there. This is not one of those playa moments when you have to rely solely on yourself. There are resources available to sexual assault survivors on playa, and we want you to know about them.

Burning Man’s Emergency Services Department (ESD) has a specialized Crisis Intervention Team whose main goal is to support participants with issues related to sexual assault, domestic violence, psychiatric emergencies and what they call critical incident stress management, which includes providing short-term psychological help, acute crisis intervention, and post-crisis follow-up. Its purpose is to enable people to return to their daily lives more quickly and with less likelihood of experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.

In cases of sexual assault, ESD’s goal is to provide participants with a full range of support — from having someone to talk to, to escorting the person to a hospital for treatment and ensuring they return safely to the event if they choose to do so. The team that works on mental health evaluation issues is comprised of clinical professionals such as licensed therapists, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists. The team that responds to sexual assault and domestic violence calls includes therapists and victim advocates with various backgrounds.

The Crisis Intervention Team may also be called upon to provide support to camp members after a tragedy to help an assault survivor integrate back into his or her camp and aid the healing of the participant’s community. Sometimes campmates have experienced similar issues, and an issue on the playa can serve as a trigger.

In addition to providing on-site support, the sexual assault team offers to work with survivors post-event, providing contact information for local support services in their home towns, following up to hear how they are coping and to lend a supportive and knowledgeable ear.

Each year we’re asked why Burning Man does not provide forensic exams — also known as “rape kits” — on the playa. We’d like to address that here. First of all, while we’re proud of the medical support services that are available at the event, conducting forensic exams is a highly specialized service. There are only two sites in all of the State of the Nevada that do them: one in Reno and one in Las Vegas.

We have been informed by medical and legal experts that, due to location and uncontrollable factors associated with the playa environment, an exam done on the playa would face a high probability of being successfully challenged in a court of law — essentially making it useless in aiding a conviction. (The ‘chain of custody*’ is partially what’s at issue here; if you obtain the evidence on playa and then transport it to Reno, it’s more likely to become contaminated.)

We have also been told the best course of action to ensure the highest likelihood that any evidence collected will help identify a perpetrator and secure a conviction is to transport the assault survivor to Reno for an exam by a Nevada Sexual Assault Response Team. This year (for the first time), the Burning Man organization will offer to pay for flight transport of survivors to and from Reno, greatly decreasing the examination time and facilitating a speedier reconnection with friends and family.

To contact the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) on the playa:

  • Contact a Black Rock Ranger or walk in to one of the medical stations and let the person know you want to report a sexual assault, domestic violence or mental health issue. You can find medical stations at 3:00 & C, 9:00 & C, 4:30 & H, 7:30 & H, 11:00 from the Man on the open playa and the main medical facility is at 5:15 and Esplanade.
  • A Black Rock Ranger will contact the CIT team.
  • A Black Rock Ranger will also contact law enforcement. (All sexual assault and domestic violence in Black Rock City must be reported to law enforcement as mandated by law.)
  • CIT will work with law enforcement to provide a safe environment for the participant, and law enforcement will conduct the investigation if necessary.
  • After the initial law enforcement investigation, BRC will use the on-playa fixed-wing air ambulance for transport to Reno to the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) clinic. Swift transport will ensure timely evidence collection and maximum possible comfort for the survivor.
  • CIT and law enforcement will stay with the survivor throughout the interview and transport process, ensuring maintenance of the chain of custody and emotional support to the survivor.

We hope this information helps you to understand the resources and tools that are available in Black Rock City for responding to and addressing instances of sexual assault. Of course the best outcome is to prevent these instances from happening in the first place, and we encourage you to read this recent post and others in this series (additional posts coming soon) to learn more about how to be part of our collective effort to make Black Rock City safe for everyone.

Lastly, do you have experience in this area? Do you want to help make Black Rock City a safe, more supportive city? The CIT team will be taking applications in the spring (2016) for new volunteers who are active year-round as victim advocates in their communities. Volunteers must be willing to be on call onsite and understand that Burning Man is a mandated reporting event, so they must have experience working with law enforcement with a positive, professional attitude. To volunteer, you can fill out the volunteer form.

We invite you to join this important conversation by sharing your comments below and on future posts in this series. And we should note that while we normally give a lot of latitude regarding our comment policy in the spirit of self-expression, comments on these posts will be vigorously moderated to maintain civil discourse. If you want to be overtly offensive, sexist, or go about trolling sexual assault victims, please go elsewhere on the internet.

* Chain of custody (CoC), in legal contexts, refers to the chronological documentation or paper trail, showing the seizure, custody, control, transfer, analysis, and disposition of physical or electronic evidence. (back to top)

Vote for Burning Man’s SXSW 2016 Panels!

SXSW. You may have heard of it.
SXSW. You may have heard of it.

During our 25+ years of producing Burning Man, we’ve learned a thing or two about collaborative creation, participation-driven cities, inspiring creativity, creating crucibles for innovation, alternative socioeconomic models — things that we’re as eager to share with the broader creative community as they are to hear it. So for us, SXSW is as much about skill sharing as learning and community engagement.

So … that said, we’re happy to once again be proposing a few panels for SXSWi, and if you agree they’d be a valuable addition to this year’s SXSW offering, please vote before September 4, and share with others who might feel similarly!

Creating the Ideal Context for Radical Innovation

We’re witnessing the rapid growth of a culture of making and innovation across a variety of disciplines that, taken together, supply the raw materials of a vibrant and productive ecosystem of radical creativity. This panel will explore the ingredients that go into creating a successful context for innovation, and how they’re being employed in the corporate, government, design and art realms today.

Will Chase, Minister of Propaganda, Burning Man
Smita Satiani, Director of Engagement, White House Presidential Innovation Fellows
Peter Hirshberg, Founder, City Innovate
Bill O’Connor, Founder, Autodesk Innovation Genome

Vote for this panel.

Burning Man: From Free Play To Innovation Science

Playfulness is a refined mechanism of evolution that acts as an engine of engagement and adaptability. The biology of fun is the biology of deep engagement and creative invention. In play, animals (including humans) generate novelty and build strong social relationships. Furthermore, the creativity of play is a precursor to innovation akin to how natural selection generates innovation, as some ideas generated in play’s abundance result in useful, game-changing strategies.

Here we bring together an elite panel that will show how the future of robust social networks, as well as innovation (and social joy), relies on tapping into our evolutionary resource: playfulness.

Jenn Sander, Global Initiatives, Burning Man
Stuart Brown, Founder, National Institute of Play
Brendan Boyle, Partner, IDEO
Isabel Behncke, TED Fellow & Oxford University PHD

Vote for this panel.

Internationalization of Cultural Movements

How does the internationalization and expansion of bottom-up grassroots, cultural movements like Burning Man’s, Maker Faire’s, and Couchsurfing’s occur while maintaining foundational cultural identities? How did the missions and purpose of these organizations play a part in their becoming global networks, and to what extent did it happen organically? What are their unique challenges of expansion, and how are they responding to the needs of their communities? This panel will explore the diverse learnings, tools and future opportunities of global impact networks.

Meghan Rutigliano, Regional Network Associate Director, Burning Man
Sabrina Merlo, Program Director, Maker Faire
Casey Fenton, Couchsurfing

Vote for this panel.

Thank you, and we hope to see you at SXSW 2016!

BRC Receives 2015 Special Recreation Permit from BLM

(Photo by Ron Lussier)

(Photo by Ron Lussier)

The Bureau of Land Management today issued a Special Recreation Permit authorizing Black Rock City LLC to conduct the annual Burning Man event for 2015. The event takes place Aug. 30 through Sept. 7 in the Black Rock Desert of northern Nevada.

As a result of ongoing negotiations, Burning Man and BLM officials have agreed to eliminate a proposed second BLM facility at Blue Pit, and BLM will use the same catering contractor as Burning Man. Improved operational alignment by both groups has reduced expected BLM fees and costs by several hundred thousand dollars.

“We’ve made tremendous progress over the past six weeks to agree on common sense solutions that meet BLM’s needs and ensure the health and safety of those supporting and participating in the Burning Man event,” said CEO Marian Goodell. “That being said, there’s an important amount of work to do after the 2015 event. We’re all committed to further discussion regarding the permitor – permittee relationship and what is required for BLM to properly administer the permit.”

As part of the Special Recreation Permit, Burning Man agrees to cap the population at 70,000 participants for 2015.