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 Fire Department Says: Don’t Be Like These Bozos

by Penny Stone

(Photo by aip2000)

(Photo by aip2000)

The list of things you can do at Burning Man is as long as your imagination — it’s an experience of a lifetime. And nothing sucks more than having your Burn cut short.

I’m Penny Stone, Fire Chief of your Burning Man Volunteer Fire Department. We are 100 firefighters strong, from all over the world, and probably one of the most eclectic fire departments you’ll ever hopefully never have to call. While we specialize in fire, we also have rescue and hazmat teams.

I’ve got some tips to keep you safe and keep your Burn rolling. Here goes…

Baffling Your Generator

I was riding through the Black Rock City streets last year when I saw smoke billowing out of the back of a pickup truck. Turns out a participant had wrapped his generator (in the truck bed) with a foam mattress to decrease the noise — and then he put a plastic dog kennel over it to hold everything in place.

I dragged the smoking mess onto the playa and extinguished it. The owner came out of his tent, smiled and said “I was just trying to make it less noisy.”

There are plenty of ways to baffle your generator safely, like this for example.

Make sure generators have proper clearance from flammable objects (ahem, including foam mattresses).

Overfilling Your RV’s Propane Tanks

Let’s say you rent an RV. The RV propane tank you filled in a cooler place is now at a higher altitude and temperature, and that propane you’re smelling is it off-gassing. You know what propane smells like? You’ll want to in case it happens to you.

Tell the person filling your propane tank that you’re going to Burning Man (or at least “the desert”). A gas leak detector would be a good idea, too.

Electrical Sanity in Your RV

True story: In 2012, Black Rock Volunteer Fire Department responded to an RV that these guys had bought, the electrical system for which wasn’t designed for the demand they put on it. The electrical lines under the floorboards overheated and started a fire that engulfed the RV. Fortunately, everyone got out in time.

Make sure a qualified electrician and mechanic inspects your RV before purchasing. AND MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A WORKING FIRE EXTINGUISHER OR TWO!!!

Fire in Your Camp

fireexBurn barrels and flame effects are wonderful to chill around at night. But remember they need adequate clearance, and they must always be attended! It only takes a stray spark to set your neighborhood on fire, quickly.

Designate someone as the Pulse of Fire in your camp. Pay attention to wind speed, wind direction and the height of your flame, and make sure you don’t overload your burn barrel (it happens a lot).

AND MAKE SURE THERE IS A FIRE EXTINGUISHER IN A VISIBLE AND ACCESSIBLE PLACE AND ALL YOUR CAMPMATES KNOW WHERE IT IS. A 4×4” post painted red and placed in a five gallon bucket with sand or cement makes a great place to mount an extinguisher.

Questions? We’re Here to Help!

If you have questions about how to set up a fire plan for your camp or village please feel free to contact us at fuel@burningman.org. We can help with questions on fire safety, fuel storage and dispensing, fires in camp and flame effects. We’re here to make your burn FABULOUS. Besides, WE BURN MORE THAN YOU.

Download a handy, printable fuel safety document (PDF – 3MB)

How to Stay in Love at Burning Man

by Ariel Root Wolpe

(Photo by Jenny Beatty)

(Photo by Jenny Beatty)

To Burners coming to Black Rock City for the first time in a romantic relationship,

You already know that Burning Man is a harsh environment — it’s hot as hell, there’s little natural life to be found, and a bad dust storm can wipe you out. But perhaps less known is that Burning Man is tough on relationships, in particular the romantic kind. In fact, the Burning Man website takes this seriously enough to offer a Relationship Survival Guide. But never fear — there are ways you can prepare yourself and your partner to make sure Burning Man is the best possible experience for each of you, your relationship, and for whatever group you are camping with.

Burning Man is like traveling to a different country (even for Americans) — you’re there for a limited time, and you will want to get the full experience, and you might even feel resentment at missing out on the things you want to do. There are many personal experiences to be had on the playa, and journeying alone can be equally as rewarding as exploring together.

We all go to Burning Man with certain expectations. The best thing you can do is share these with your partner honestly and thoroughly. “I want to feel free and go on unscheduled adventures” or “I want to look at lots of art and talk about it with you” needs to be said before you go. One approach is to designate which days you and your partner will meander together and which days you will do your own thing.

As you know, you and your partner are different people, and your desires inevitably conflict at certain times. Being on the same page before you get to the Burn is crucial. This means open, honest conversation beforehand about your needs from each other. Telling your partner “I need you to help me cook a meal every day” or “I need you to help me socialize with this new camp” will go a long way once you get to the Burn.

If you have any anxiety about the Burn, share it. Maybe you are nervous about the gravity of intoxicated people sucking you in, or the hundreds of hot, sweaty Burners biking across the playa. Just tell your partner so they know to be sensitive when certain situations arise.

(Photo by Jonathan Clark)

(Photo by Jonathan Clark)

If you are camping with a large camp, you are entering an intimate, emotionally sensitive community of people. Camps often cook, eat, party and go out together, and this experience creates intense bonds. In camp, your tents will be right next to each other. Everyone is able to hear everything in each other’s tents above a small whisper (this includes overhearing exciting sexcapades!). The camp trusts everyone else to bring conscientious, generous, and fun people into their close quarters, and difficult campmates have a really negative effect on the camp.

If you and your partner are fighting, in consistently bad moods, or have tension between you, it will keep you from connecting with campmates, it will detract from everyone’s experience, and it will reflect poorly on you and whoever brought you into the camp. It’s an intense environment, so if you do feel a squabble arising, keep it super quiet, go your separate ways to cool off, or have your full blown fight away from humanity in deep playa.

You both have to physically, mentally and emotionally plan ahead for the Burn. Make sure you can come together on common expectations and be okay with different needs and desires. You can have a fun, amazing time together if you come in with the right mindset, generous intentions, and with open hearts.

Mark Petersen
Mark Petersen

Ariel Root Wolpe is an artist, musician and rabbinical student living in Los Angeles, California. Her first Burn was in 2013.

Message To Participants

The days are getting warmer, tickets are showing up in the mail and the trolls are spreading mistruths online.  Yes, it is that time of year again:Pre-Burn Season!

This is also the time of year that first timers start to ask for advice from their veteran Burner friends.  I first send them to the fantastic survival guide, then to my tips & tricks videos (starting with the ones for Virgins).  Then I pat their head, tell them it is all going to be okay, and share some version of the message below.  In addition to bringing the right gear, it is important to bring the right attitude.

*This video was requested from participants of this year’s Midburn. It is worded in a way that applies to people heading to any event where Radical Self Expression and Gifting is embraced.

**If, after watching, you don’t feel drawn to attend this year, please sell your ticket back through official channels. There are many eager and well deserving people waiting for your ticket in the STEP program.

Halcyon’s Tips & Tricks # 16 “Rangers!”

Episode 16 is less of a “trick” and more of a clarification and definition. “Who are the Rangers and how do I relate to them?” More importantly, “Do I have to act sober around them?!”




There’s a Black Dot in the Middle of Everything I See

Ranger Halston
Ranger Halston

Kelli Hoversten was a tireless and fearless adventurer. She’d ice climb during the Colorado winters, rock climb in the warmer months, and travel the country in search of her next challenge. She was also an avid reader, devouring four or five books at a time when she wasn’t working on her family’s Missouri cattle ranch.

But not anymore.

At Burning Man 2014, Kelli — you may know her as Ranger Halston — was working with her fellow Black Rock Rangers as a “Sandman”, the caretakers of the inner circle during the Man Burn. While the citizens of Black Rock City watch the Man and the Fire Conclave performances in the Great Circle, Sandman Rangers keep their eyes on the crowd, ensuring nobody makes an ill-advised sprint toward the flames.

Ranger Halston, after the injury
Ranger Halston, after the injury

That was when Kelli’s life was instantaneously and irreversibly changed, when somebody in the crowd pointed a handheld laser at her face, permanently blinding her left eye. And then one mounted on a Mutant Vehicle partially blinded her right eye.

Some Burners think it’s “fun” to aim a laser at the Man, or at the people around them — it’s the functional (and intellectual) equivalent of tagging, I suppose. It used to be no big deal, really. Back in the day, the only lasers that could actually harm somebody were big, unwieldy and expensive, but with recent technological advancements, the $20 laser you picked up and stuck in your pocket can reach 3-10 miles, and it could blind anybody who catches it in the eye. And facing the crowd as they do during big burns, Black Rock Rangers are especially vulnerable.

Ranger Halston with fellow Black Rock Ranger
Ranger Halston with fellow Black Rock Ranger

Since the accident, Kelli has been forced to relearn everything she’d come to know in her life, and to reconsider everything she’s taken for granted. “I had no idea how important depth perception is. I don’t think anybody does, until they lose it,” she tells me. She no longer rock climbs or ice climbs. “It’s too dangerous with one eye, and the risk of another injury on top of this? If I lose my other eye, well …” She leaves the sentence hanging in the air. She’s lost her job as an arborist because they can’t insure her now. She’s got enough vision left in her right eye to still be allowed to drive, but just barely, and she’s rightfully worried about losing that privilege. “There’s a black dot in the middle of everything I see.”

Don’t use handheld lasers in crowds, don’t ever aim them at people, and make sure nobody around you does either.

It’s too difficult and painful to read as much as she used to, but low-vision therapists are helping with lighting systems that will help a bit. “Reaching out to pick up a water glass now requires thought. Even cutting my food is a challenge. And God, shaving my legs is like a bloodbath,” she laughs. “I sure didn’t see that one coming.”

Halston at Rangers HQ
Halston at Rangers HQ

I hear sadness cutting through the laughter, and I’m struck by her strength. She’s angry, and she has every right to be. Her future was stolen through somebody’s ignorance. But she’s not bitter. More than anything, as she comes to terms with the fact that she’ll never have her former life back, she’s most concerned about making sure others are aware of the dangers of modern handheld lasers. Makes sense, really. She’s a Black Rock Ranger.

Kelli is raising funds to cover the lost wages and medical bills she’s accumulated since the injury, carrying her over until (and hopefully beyond) her Workers’ Comp claim gets processed by Burning Man’s insurance company. Please join with us as we help her, if you can.

But more importantly, don’t use handheld lasers in crowds, don’t ever aim them at people, and make sure nobody around you does either. And don’t bring them to Burning Man ever again — it’s just not worth the risk to the livelihood of another human being. Share this story around. That’s what Kelli really wants. That’s what Burning Man wants.

What the Heck Happened with Will Call Last Year?

The Box Office, 2014 (Photo by Nimbus)
The Box Office, 2014 (Photo by Nimbus)

Hello! I’m Rebecca Throne, aka nimbus, and I manage Ticketing for Burning Man, including Box Office operations on the playa. 2014 was a tough year for the Box Office, and if you were one of the many people picking up tickets at Will Call you may have had the misfortune of experiencing that firsthand. For some context: the Black Rock City Box Office operates 24/7 for 11 days. In 2014, some participants on five of those days experienced excessive wait times of up to seven hours or more, which is unacceptable by any standard.

What happened?

  • As has been our policy in previous years, all tickets sold through the OMG Sale, STEP, the Low Income Ticket program, and those sold to international participants were held for Will Call pick up at the Box Office. This is in addition to tickets bought in our other sales by those who choose Will Call pick up.
  • In 2014, the Box Office was faced with even more volume than ever. We were able to add some late-season ticket releases, which were all distributed via the Will Call-only channels of STEP and the OMG Sale in August.
  • With the change of ticketing partners in 2014, we had to get up to speed with learning a new system and training the Box Office team, some of which took place onsite.
  • The introduction of vehicle passes in 2014 meant we were handling twice as many physical things, so each transaction took a bit longer.
  • We were understaffed for the flow of tickets and people coming to the Box Office for tickets.

A tremendous amount of information-gathering, research, and strategizing has taken place since the event. In addition to collecting input from community discussions we’ve been monitoring online, we’ve also conducted our own in-depth debrief process, and hosted a cross-departmental forum to gather potential solutions. We’ve gotten a ton of valuable input, and we’ve incorporated much of it into our approach for 2015.

So what are we doing to fix it?

It’s important to understand that there is no single silver-bullet panacea that will fix the problem. Just as the long wait times were a byproduct of numerous systems buckling under increased stress, the approach to solve it will also need to be multi-pronged. Here are a few of the changes we’re working on:

  1. For the first time, you’ll be able to choose to have your STEP and OMG Sale tickets shipped to you. This alone can reduce volume by thousands of orders, and has the potential for the largest impact in reducing overall traffic to the Box Office. We are also investigating alternative shipping options for international ticket buyers.
  2. We are increasing staffing levels at the Box Office. With more people to assist participants, we’ll be able to process more requests in a shorter period of time.
  3. We’re designing a better model for Box Office operations, including changes to our roles, reengineering our training process, and expanding the number of days the Box Office is open to take care of Early Arrivals and staff.
  4. And finally, we’re redesigning our physical infrastructure (adding more windows and shade, implementing some ‘queue theory’ best practices, increasing informational signage, etc.) so it can better handle the load and make for a smoother experience for everyone (it wasn’t fun for us, either!).

While print-at-home tickets has been floated as a possible solution, there are a number of practical reasons we believe this is not the best fit for Burning Man, the most important being our commitment to preventing counterfeiting (there is no way to prevent print-at-home tickets from being photocopied). Other, more cultural reasons, include the fact that gifting physical tickets is a longstanding tradition in our community. We’re positive we can address the Box Office’s challenges without that solution right now, but we will continue to revisit the idea as necessary.

We are learning from our experience in 2014 and making changes in order to get it right in 2015. We’re using this as an opportunity to optimize our systems, and to ensure you have the best possible experience at the Box Office in the future. All told, we hope to cut the number of transactions at the Box Office down by nearly half.

How can you help?

There are a number of things you can do to help both before, and when you arrive, at the Box Office:

  1. If at all possible, have your tickets shipped to you. Choose the delivery option that works best for your travel plans. Last year we expanded our offerings to include UPS 2nd day, which is especially helpful for those traveling long distances who leave home long before the event begins, and have opted for the security of Will Call in the past. This option gives more people the viable option of delivery instead of Will Call.
  2. If you or anyone you know (like somebody in your vehicle, for instance) is expecting to pick up an order from the Box Office, encourage them to be prepared, with their order confirmation and valid legal ID handy. This will speed up processing times.
  3. Join us! We’re greatly increasing our Box Office staff this year. We screen folks heavily for accountability and specialized skillset, and so we frequently rely on personal referrals. If you are looking for a new playa family and have great in-person customer service experience, are savvy using point-of-sale systems, are the epitome of grace under pressure, and/or are a front-of-house ninja, please get in touch with us at boxoffice@burningman.com and fill in/update your volunteer questionnaire to indicate that you want to work with Box Office. (Keep in mind that because we make a significant investment in training people, we require our crew to work a minimum of four 6-hour shifts.)

I hope this helps give a better understanding of what created the situation we faced in 2014 and what we’re doing to address it. Please know that we are keenly aware of the problem, we agree that what happened in 2014 was unacceptable, and we are confident the changes we are implementing will significantly improve the Box Office experience for 2015.

I invite you to leave your thoughts in the comments below – we look forward to reading them and continuing the conversation.