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Thoughts from Cuckoo HQ
Jul 15

Burning Man 2015 In Jeopardy Over Health & Safety Issues

According to a recent letter released by the Bureau of Land Management, who are responsible for licensing the Burning Man event, there are 18 outstanding issues that need resolving. They are all under the headings 'Safety, Health, Security & Environmental Compliance Issues & Concerns'.

The history

Burning Man is heading into its 23rd year in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada and is described as 'an experiment in community, art, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance.'

It sees around 75,000 people transplant themselves into the desert for a full week of partying and immersion in a temporary community, all culminating in 'the burn' on the last night where a giant wooden man is burned on site. 

While it began life as a 'counter-culture' event, in recent times it's become 'mainstream cool' with more and more tech big wigs heading out there each year. 

Some say it's now unrecognisable from what it was. 

Either way, it's a week long festival that sees a whole city crop up in the desert welcoming 75,000 people.

The event

Counter-culture or not - holding an event for 75,000 people in the desert obviously involves an immense level of organisation and coordination. The counter-culture element, reduced as it may be, and the fire element make it even more of a high risk event than it might otherwise be too. 

It also requires licensing and that's where the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) comes in. They are the local government agency responsible for licensing the event and ensuring that all necessary arrangements are in place for the event so as to reasonably ensure everyone attending will be safe.

The issues

In an odd move, in fairness, the BLM have released a letter they sent to the organisers of Burning Man recently outlining the issues they identified after last year's event. 

The 2014 event saw a woman die when she was struck by a vehicle / art installation. The BLM also speak of how 'Last year, a total of 2,880 patients were treated for medical issues, including 71 drug overdoses, 67 trauma incidents and 30 cases of alcohol poisoning' in the letter too.

To be fair, any large gathering of people will bring with it a criminal element. That's true the world over. 

The issues here seem to be the procedures and resources Burning Man put in place not being sufficient in the eyes of the BLM.

This glimpse into the machinations going on behind the scenes ahead of this world-famous event is fascinating for anyone with an interest in large-scale events. 

The full report from BLM in relation to these issues can be seen below.

It accompanied a previous letter fro the BLM to the Burning Man organisers. 

A number of things are clear from the documents above:

  • Burning Man experiences a lot of the problems you'd naturally expect of an event of its size and nature.
  • Burning Man experiences issues very particular to Burning Man, including the issues with the art cars and the planned burns.
  • There are a large number of agencies operating on site and around site during Burning Man.
  • The BLM concerns do seem to be valid public safety concerns.
  • There was a comprehensive post-event review conducted after the 2014 Burning Man event.

The bottom line

There will be no Burning Man event without the organisers satisfying the BLM that they've addressed all of these public safety concerns. 

As event organisers we are all familiar with the powers that need to be satisfied in order for our events to happen.

Burning Man, big and iconic as it is, is no different in that respect. 

There'll need to be a lot of work and I'd imagine a whole lot of meetings in the next month to make this one happen. 

Mark Breen
July 31, 2015, 08:22 AM

Hi David. Cheers for your comment. You make an interesting point, actually. Over here (Ireland) we'd not be as au fait with the likes of large-scale temporary military deployments but, yes, I'd imagine there are a lot of things BM could learn from people who achieve those. Agree with you re the criminal element too but I'd *imagine* bans happen for know criminals alright but I;d expect, given the size of the attending crowd, a healthy new criminal element appears each year. Mark

July 27, 2015, 12:47 AM

Hi Tony. I'd be inclined to agree. Seems like its too big NOT to get everything sorted and go ahead as planned.

Tony E Murphy
July 26, 2015, 11:13 PM

As long as all safety measures are in place, and there are plenty of useful facilities available, I see no reason for this wonderful event to be cancelled. Yours Truly, T.M.

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