AFTERBURN REPORT 2004
With more and more participants joining the population of Black Rock City each year, the Exodus process is a growing challenge. Each year, rising to face this challenge successfully becomes more vital to the survival of the event. In 2004, the Exodus crew felt this new reality and sense of challenge more than ever.
The focus of the Exodus process changed a bit for 2004. A combination of our own observations, participant feedback, and expressions of concern from sources outside Black Rock City, including locals in the towns of Gerlach and Empire and the law enforcement community, made us recognize the importance of reducing the traffic backup on the paved highways outside the event site and on through the towns of Gerlach and Empire. Traffic jams can cause problems not just for locals, but for participants as well, as they pass through these one-street towns. Our greatest concern was that emergency vehicles could get safely through the streets. We decided that our best plan was to keep most of the backup on the playa and off the paved roads. The average wait time would be about the same, but the place of the wait would be changed, and hey, why not wait on the playa among friends instead of in single file on the Nevada pavement?
We improved communications about Exodus for 2004, both on and off playa. We spent more effort getting the word out about the Exodus process, emphasizing the need for everyone leaving BRC to make the process run as smoothly as possible by not stopping in town and trying to space out departures instead everyone leaving on Monday. We also improved communications with the staff of Burning Man Information Radio (BMIR) We talked more often and provided frequent traffic updates and recommendations which then went out over the airwaves.
Monday presented the busiest time for Exodus and offered the largest challenges. With so many people waiting in line during the heat of the day, temperatures rose inside cars and sometimes in those sitting in the cars. To address this simmering problem, we instituted a system that would let people and their vehicles cool off, while still maintaining a highly efficient process for getting people out of the city and onto the highway. We had tried the same thing before with mixed results, and we felt that we wanted to try it again. This modification did help with the issues we were trying to address ... everyone seemed to appreciate taking the break and we had less trouble with vehicle breakdowns. But we seemed to trade one set of problems for another, as some people ended up speeding down Gate road to make up for the time sitting, and we had more back up into the city. In the end, the best plan seems to require accepting the issues we have and keeping the whole process as simple as possible. And in the end, a successful Exodus really does come down to everyone taking responsibility for when they leave and dealing with the outcomes of their choices.
Another issue that continues to plague the Exodus is trash on the highway. After a few days of people leaving Burning Man, every road leading away from the event site seems to have accumulated trash! The perception is that some participants abandon the Leave No Trace ethic as they leave the playa. Sometimes, unsecured loads fly from vehicles and are simply left, and sometimes people intentionally dump anything they just do not want to haul back home. This littering is creating quite a public relations problem, and it does not reflect well on us as a responsible community. These alleyways of debris not only cause unsightly messes that locals and other visitors alike do not appreciate, but they can also be dangerous for those traveling the roads. A concerted effort will be made in the coming years to address this problem, which again boils down to personal responsibility assumed by each individual.
All in all, 2004 was another good year for Exodus, and we look forward to returning next year in service to the community of Burning Man.
Odwally, Exodus Manager