Is Burning Man still dangerous?

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Chai Guy
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Is Burning Man still dangerous?

Post by Chai Guy » Wed Mar 29, 2006 11:04 pm

Is Burning Man still dangerous?

This is a question that was introduced in another thread, and it's something I've been thinking about lately. Maybe it's just my perception, but it seems to me that when I first started attending the prevailing sentiment was that you were responsible for your own survival and safety. Since that time (and in fact, even before I began attending) there has been a gradual increase in the institution of rules, regulations, and bureaucracy designed to protect us from not only each other, but from ourselves.

There was a time when I took the words "YOU VOLUNTARILY ASSUME THE RISK OF SERIOUS INJURY OR DEATH BY ATTENDING." printed on the back of the ticket seriously, now I realize that it's just marketing hype.

What do you think?

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Post by Desert Duck » Wed Mar 29, 2006 11:10 pm

Yeah, there's still an element of hazard, but not so much actual "danger".
I mean the Crusher could take your arm off in a heartbeat, but it's not likely that that would happen because anytime it's in operation, there are several responsible people making sure random people don't get too close. That's just one example.
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Post by Sean » Wed Mar 29, 2006 11:18 pm

It seems that there is no more real danger than what you experience at the local bar on friday night.

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Post by Chai Guy » Wed Mar 29, 2006 11:22 pm

I'm just thinking back to some things I've seen at the event, and how, if something like that were to happen in 2006, the police, fire, REMSA, Health Dept., Black Rock Rangers, Earth Guardians or whoever would NEVER let it happen. (and mind you, I'm not assessing blame against the LLC here, if the BLM says "no, you can't do that" then they really have no choice do they?)

For example:

I remember walking out onto the open playa one night and hearing someone shout through a bullhorn that we should shield our eyes from the impending light as they were about to ignite a magnesium engine block on fire. I seriously doubt such a thing would be allowed today.

Hellco, I don't think anyone is going to fly down a zip line from a structure engulfed in fire anymore.

Even something as simple as walking out past the trash fence, which I did several times during my first few years without a peep from anyone, now seems to be against the rules.

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Post by diane o'thirst » Wed Mar 29, 2006 11:22 pm

I think it's the LLC covering its legal back on advice of their lawyers.

And unfortunately, that selfsame legal out is being abused. Everytime I hear about someone getting hurt or killed out there, I see at least a couple people cynically quoting the ticket with a sneer on their faces. A lot of people take it as license to behave irresponsibly.

Is Burning Man still dangerous? Consider: we're on a dry lakebed where the very air sucks the moisture from your body, whether or not the sun's up; the composition of the lakebed will turn your feet up to your knees into cracked and bleeding ludefisk within a couple days if you don't stay on top of it and de-alkalize your skin consistently; throw in a handful of irresponsible/drunk/mean-spirited people with a "fuck you" attitude into the mix — what do you think? I've stopped counting how many times I've gotten shang-hai'ed into a blitz game of chicken with unlit vehicles of various velocities and GVWs.

That having been said...the most danger I've been in on the Playa was...sleeping in my camp bed. I can look forward to getting dehydrated at least once a week because when you're sleeping, you're not hydrating. Go a couple hours with no water and you're in trouble. Go five hours, like I did in 2000, and it's a trip to the med tent for intravenous hydration.
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Post by The CO » Wed Mar 29, 2006 11:35 pm

In simplest answer: Yes.

Caveat: It is dangerous now(you may wind up on Girls Gone Wild or Discovery Channel or get busted for ____) in ways that it was not in the "way back when" (you may get shot/at, explosion & fire perimeters or lack therof), but some dangers remain constant (dehydration, getting run over, tripping further than intended).

(grizzled old-timer voice) Read your Ticket! It was more dangerous/better/fun when...
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Post by Chai Guy » Wed Mar 29, 2006 11:37 pm

So that's it huh? We've put so many hand rails into the event that the most dangerous problem we now face is "playa-foot", chapped lips and dehydration?
Everytime I hear about someone getting hurt or killed out there, I see at least a couple people cynically quoting the ticket with a sneer on their faces...
Ok, but this is my question, isn't Burning Man supposed to be just a little bit dangerous? Isn't that part of it's appeal, that unlike say a week at Disneyland, you might get injured or even killed on the playa. You don't just have an experience, you survive it, kinda thing?

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Post by The CO » Wed Mar 29, 2006 11:47 pm

Did you see Dance Dance Immolation this year? Or better still participate in it? I'll play my hunch for no...
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Post by DVD Burner » Wed Mar 29, 2006 11:50 pm

Is Burning Man still dangerous?

I sure hope the heck it still is. It's part of the excitement.
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Post by Chai Guy » Wed Mar 29, 2006 11:58 pm

Did you see Dance Dance Immolation this year?
I did see it and I thought it was a brilliant idea, well executed, very enjoyable. I didn't find it particularly dangerous however. To me it was more like, I dunno, bungee jumping or something, it looks fairly risky at first glance but the reality is it's got a proven record for safety, and is probably less dangerous, statistically speaking, than driving a car.

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Post by AntiM » Thu Mar 30, 2006 6:52 am

If you're stupid enough, your own home is a deathtrap.

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Post by sputnik » Thu Mar 30, 2006 8:36 am

It's much safer in many ways then I expected. My first year was 04 and I worked the Roaster Coaster. Despite all the fun words of safety third and such, it was pretty safe for the riders. We had one guy get bloodied up a bit when his harness came loose and whacked him in the head.

However, I did take some pretty substantial personal risks in assembling and running the coaster. See that board up on the left side of the coaster? I worked up there with very little in the way of restraints to keep me from falling off. I stayed hydrated and I was careful, but that was about all. One night I walked across the path of the coaster while it was being hauled up. I realized afterward that that was pretty stupid and probably would have been killed had it released early for some reason.

Image

So, what I'm saying is that you take the risks that you feel you can handle. The 100 foot ladder was pretty damn risky if you ask me.
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Post by Chai Guy » Thu Mar 30, 2006 8:46 am

Absolutely, and I'm trying to say that you can't hurt yourself at the event if you don't pay attention, you certainly can.


It's just that there seems to be a shift, somewhat gradual, but gaining more momentum every year, that personal safety is now the responsibility of the event and it's organizers rather the individual's.

Case in point: People have stolen the street signs the night of the burn every year that I've attended. It's only been in the last few years however that I've heard people complain about it as a safety issue. Why is it a safety issue? Well apparently, if someone steals the signs then REMSA will have difficulties finding you in the event that you get hurt and need medical attention. Now I don't support stealing street signs. I've never done it, and I never will. They are not your property and it is stealing, which is wrong, wrong, wrong.

But I don't think it should be treated as a safety issue! What's next? Requiring camps to post street numbers? Make them use reflective paint so they can be seen at night?
The 100 foot ladder was pretty damn risky if you ask me.
Yes, you are absolutely right! I think even though it was incredibly well built, simply climbing that thing was pretty damn risky.

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Post by sputnik » Thu Mar 30, 2006 9:07 am

Chai Guy wrote: It's just that there seems to be a shift, somewhat gradual, but gaining more momentum every year, that personal safety is now the responsibility of the event and it's organizers rather the individual's.
This is completely the doing of the org, as far as I can tell. As the organization and the people associated with the organization "mature" it/they become risk averse. They've invested a substantial number of years into this, and the last thing they want to have happen is for someone to ruin all of this by getting hurt and suing the LLC. I'm surprised that it hasn't happened yet. Maybe it has and I just don't know.

When this was just a camping trip to the desert with some friends you do things you would never consider doing in a city, even a city as ephermeral as BRC.

But maybe, when it's just some friends in the middle of nowhere, something like this is OK.

Image

or maybe not.

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Post by Rockdad » Thu Mar 30, 2006 9:14 am

Your right Sput! Her helmet strap is not fastened! She does not have her seat belt on either...lets see those potted plants are going to fall..But at least she is staying hydrated!
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Post by SED » Thu Mar 30, 2006 9:27 am

Nevada is plenty big enough to for another event. You can go just about anywahere and shoot things, blow stuff up and get wasted. Besides, all the law enforcement is now concentrated at BRC.

Just go somewhere else and start another burn.
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Post by helitack » Thu Mar 30, 2006 9:34 am

sputnik wrote:It's much safer in many ways then I expected. My first year was 04 and I worked the Roaster Coaster. Despite all the fun words of safety third and such, it was pretty safe for the riders. We had one guy get bloodied up a bit when his harness came loose and whacked him in the head.

However, I did take some pretty substantial personal risks in assembling and running the coaster. See that board up on the left side of the coaster? I worked up there with very little in the way of restraints to keep me from falling off. I stayed hydrated and I was careful, but that was about all. One night I walked across the path of the coaster while it was being hauled up. I realized afterward that that was pretty stupid and probably would have been killed had it released early for some reason.

Image

So, what I'm saying is that you take the risks that you feel you can handle. The 100 foot ladder was pretty damn risky if you ask me.
Hey! I rode that in '04! Too much fun.

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Post by Chai Guy » Thu Mar 30, 2006 9:35 am

This is completely the doing of the org, as far as I can tell
Oh, I dunno. I think probably that most of this stuff comes from outside organizations like the BLM. They see something they don't like and then require that it be banned or mitigated in some fashion the following year in the permit process. Again, I don't hold the Org personally responsible for any of this stuff. It's the BLM's sand box and they got to play by their rules you know?

The other part of it is reactionary, if people are wandering out to the railroad tracks and getting lost, or people are sneaking into the event, then just restrict everyone to behind the trash fence. Easy as that.

I'm not sure who's responsible for banning these guys

Image
Hey Bob, I think you missed one.

Just go somewhere else and start another burn
Oh yeah, and a lot of people have. I'm just asking a question that I've been thinking about, as a topic for discussion. I have NEVER seen any organization loosen it's controls or regulations. Once you start down the slippery slope of "in the interest of safety" and "to protect the children" you have passed the point of no return. My point is just to stick a wet finger in the air to try to gauge where we are in the whole scheme of things.

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Post by can't sit still » Thu Mar 30, 2006 9:50 am

" They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety " - Benjamin Franklin

IMHO, we have a natural desire to safeguard our lives. BUT, if you go through life in total safety, it becomes a drab shadow.
Think of the difference between looking out from Glacier Point and rappelling off of Glacier Point.
We go through life trying to be safe but at the same time searching for those brilliant moments of passion, creativity and danger.
Burning Man is the ultimate setting for offering up passion[playa love], creativity[art & music] and danger [ODs, night time crashes etc

BRC is an immersion in three of the things that make life worth living.
BUT, danger is the only one of the three that can carry a pretty heavy downside.
I believe that accepting risk on a personal level is straightfoward.
Being exposed to danger from others is a different animal. We can accept paying a price for our own miscalculations or stupidity.
I, personally, don't like paying a price for the stupidity or miscalculations of others.
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Post by Chai Guy » Thu Mar 30, 2006 10:07 am

There is an interesting book called "Mountains without Handrails", which is partly about trying to balance public access to natural parks with safety and keeping things "wild".

Obviously there are probably some rules needed. I don't want to get run over in my tent by while I'm sleeping at night by a guy hopped up on meth or whatever. But the question is when do the rules stop being about protecting YOU from ME and start being about protecting ME from ME?

Remember the year the guy burned down his camp (made of hay bales as I recall) with a tiki torch? The response? A ban on tiki torches!

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Post by sputnik » Thu Mar 30, 2006 10:26 am

Chai Guy wrote:A ban on tiki torches!
Which I totally oppose. If I want to use tiki torches I should be able to damn it. Stupid rule (not that I can bring a tiki torch, but it's the principle)
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Post by theCryptofishist » Thu Mar 30, 2006 10:50 am

diane o'thirst wrote:I think it's the LLC covering its legal back on advice of their lawyers.

And unfortunately, that selfsame legal out is being abused. Everytime I hear about someone getting hurt or killed out there, I see at least a couple people cynically quoting the ticket with a sneer on their faces. A lot of people take it as license to behave irresponsibly.
Here, here on both counts. THe famous "Back of the Ticket" has never read as much profundity to me. Boiler Plate legal disclaimers are about as profound as the text on the back of my breakfast cereal. YMMV.

My (somewhat periferal) involvement with ESD during the time it was "professionalizing" the medic corp, to much resentment for various reasons makes me think that they probably did the right thing, although they may not have done it well.

And as mindless danger is most specifically the provenance of late teens early 20s boys, perhaps the easing of danger is in part a tribute to greater diversity of population and not just greater population.
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Post by theCryptofishist » Thu Mar 30, 2006 10:53 am

sputnik wrote: They've invested a substantial number of years into this, and the last thing they want to have happen is for someone to ruin all of this by getting hurt and suing the LLC. I'm surprised that it hasn't happened yet. Maybe it has and I just don't know.
The Lampman family.
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Post by theCryptofishist » Thu Mar 30, 2006 10:54 am

Chai Guy wrote:Remember the year the guy burned down his camp (made of hay bales as I recall) with a tiki torch? The response? A ban on tiki torches!
Considering how MOOPy hay bales are...
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Post by Chai Guy » Thu Mar 30, 2006 10:59 am

Yeah, but they didn't ban hay bales that year, just tiki torches.

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Post by sputnik » Thu Mar 30, 2006 11:03 am

theCryptofishist wrote:The Lampman family.
But it hasn't stopped the event, or even slowed it down susbtantially by draining the assests of the LLC. I have no idea what happened from a legal standpoint after this tragedy occurred.
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Post by Chai Guy » Thu Mar 30, 2006 11:15 am

They added this to the back of the ticket:
Art Cars, art installations theme Camps and performances are not owned or operated by Burning Man and you therefore also assume any and all risk of injury associated with or arising from their operation or occurrence.
http://nosuchmedia.com/tjt/bm/2005_tick ... ighres.jpg

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Re: Is Burning Man still dangerous?

Post by Zhust » Thu Mar 30, 2006 11:15 am

Chai Guy wrote:What do you think?
In day-to-day life, I use staircases as a guideline. One could easily kill themself on a staircase yet there seems to be no effort to make them safer.

As for Burning Man, I think the standard seems to fit my model: "do you know what you're doing?" and "do you care about the safety of others?" For instance, I'd hate to find out that someone was running propane through garden hose with no automatic shutoff. I'd also hate to find out that there was someone planting live landmines in the playa as an art project to give everyone the experience of real wartime.

In general, I think the organization does a pretty good job of handling these things. They don't seem to create or enforce dumb rules even with lots of people who whine about it.

As for explosives or magnesium engine block burnings, in the early years there simply was nobody to ask for permission. Now there is somebody to ask, but I bet if you knew what you were doing and didn't intend on hurting people then you could probably do just about whatever you wanted.

Let me put it another way: has anybody who wanted to do something dangerous asked if they could and been denied? And what exactly was rejected? An art car with open lawnmower blades around the perimeter so you'd have to jump on and jump off or you'd get your legs chopped off?

As for the tiki torches, I think they just have a cute name but are more dangerous than they first appear. If you wanted to put a candle on a stick with a hurricane lamp chimney on it, you probably could. If you wanted to put a pint of kerosine on a stick 5 feet tall, stick a wick in it, light it on fire, then put it in the middle of a bunch of nylon tents filled with costumes, then it starts to sound a bit careless. This wouldn't apply so much to somebody who knows what they're doing (i.e. using rebar and staking the thing down properly rather than propping it against a canopy) and who doesn't want to hurt people. I think the issue was that ensuring the former required too much work.

Well, enough rambling for now ...
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Post by theCryptofishist » Thu Mar 30, 2006 11:24 am

Chai Guy wrote:Yeah, but they didn't ban hay bales that year, just tiki torches.
I gathered. I guess the org used to prop the man up on hay bales. Senitment?
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Post by Chai Guy » Thu Mar 30, 2006 11:34 am

For instance, I'd hate to find out that someone was running propane through garden hose with no automatic shutoff.
But see, I think people have actually done this! My point is at one time, it would have been up to you to decide if doing so was really a good idea or not. Then someone said "Wait, that might be dangerous!" so a committee was formed to try to protect people from doing that. Now no one is looking for the safety valve or the properly rated hose because they assume "Hey Burning Man checks these things to make sure they're safe!" The problem is they might not have checked THAT one.
in the early years there simply was nobody to ask for permission. Now there is somebody to ask


Right, and that's the issue, we've taken our responsibility for our own safety and given it over to a bunch of "volunteers" who run various committees and organizations with cutesy "burner" names. Replacing radical self reliance with a system of bureaucracy that so closely resembles the other 51 weeks of the year, that it ceases to become a parody.
Let me put it another way: has anybody who wanted to do something dangerous asked if they could and been denied?
I'm submitting a theme camp request this year for "Camp Fugu", where amateur sushi chefs will attempt to prepare and serve raw blowfish. I'll let you know if we get approval.

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