BLM to Review Chocotacos, if BM Lifts Their Safety Game [Updates]

marty-two-bulls-pow-wow-eagle

Yesterday Burning Man bigwigs and BLM bigwigs got together to discuss Chocotacogate. According to the information leaked (by BMOrg?) to Jenny Kane at the RGJ: the BLM wanted $1 million+ in extra funding to build them the Blue Pit, an off-site VIP compound with 8 double rooms for visiting dignitaries; and this is all coming from one person, BLM special agent Dan Love.

Image: Burn.Life

Image: Burn.Life

This information – blasted widely around the world – was later quietly corrected by Burning Man spokesman Jim Graham in a radio interview on NPR, who said that actually, the BLM were just asking to increase the Infrastructure part of the budget from $600,000 to $1 million. This includes walkie talkies and other safety equipment. Part of this increase was to pay for expanded medical facilities, and only some was to provide VIP accommodation. The VIP component was coming from the highest levels of the Department of Interior, who naturally wanted to visit the event after all the media and lobbying campaigns by BMOrg. The request for food was the same as last year’s, which was met without complaint by BMOrg.

Still, the global media ran with the RGJ story, putting egg on the faces of the BLM. Some politicians were stirred to pile onto the story, including Harry Reid and Mark Amodei.

Yesterday, on the day of the meeting BLM’s Nevada Director Neil Kornze wrote a column for the RGJ, saying:

Many have read stories in recent days about a proposed lavish encampment for Bureau of Land Management employees working at the Burning Man festival that is held annually on public lands in the Nevada desert. These reports painted a troubling portrait of government employees seeking VIP accommodations and outlandish provisions. Like you, I was surprised and upset by much of what I read.

I have directed my team to take a top-to-bottom look at exactly what is needed to properly support BLM employees that have oversight responsibility for this enormous public event in a remote corner of Nevada. Our revised proposal will include only what is essential for our core operational needs for providing appropriate health, safety, and environmental safeguards on the playa. That is our commitment.

And while we undertake that review, we are also working to address critical safety and health issues at Burning Man. Over the past five years, the Burning Man event has nearly doubled in size. What was once a loosely organized gathering of a few thousand like-minded individuals is now an instant metropolis hosting 75,000 attendees, volunteers, and staff in one of the most remote corners of the American west. At its peak, Burning Man is the sixth largest city in Nevada, complete with a busy airport. Attendees come to the playa from around the world with their own ideas of what Burning Man is and ought to be.

This rapid evolution has dramatically increased the complexity of the BLM’s and Black Rock City LLC’s management responsibilities, and in recent years a series of incidents have made it clear that improvements need to be made. 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. Tragically, a woman was killed last year when she was run over by an art car. Incidents of burglary, battery, and sexual assault have risen as the event has grown, and the BLM has also responded to flooding, aviation accidents, and out-of-control fires in recent years.

In March, the BLM raised twenty critical health, safety, and environmental issues with event organizers, including ensuring that on-site medical services are adequate to serve the vast population of Black Rock City. To date, Black Rock City LLC has only acknowledged seven of these important issues and has provided adequate plans and updates for just two.

In the coming days, the BLM will make an important course correction regarding what is needed to support our teams that are on the ground during the Burning Man event. It will also be necessary for the organizers of Burning Man to come to the table as serious partners in addressing the concerns that were identified for them months ago. We look forward to further dialogue on these issues. Our priority is to make sure that all burners come home safe and healthy.

[Source: RGJ]

Yesterday’s meeting was the first time BMOrg had met with BLM’s acting State Director John Ruhs.

From the Reno Gazette Journal:

Present at the meeting Wednesday from Burning Man were founder Larry Harvey; Marnee Benson, political affairs manager; Rosalie Barnes, agency relations and regulatory affairs manager; Ray Allen, attorney; and Goodell…For BLM, Ruhs was present along with Winnemucca district manager Gene Seidlitz, Nevada-Utah special agent in charge Dan Love and acting assistant state director Ann DeBlasi from Washington, D.C.

…the meeting centered on safety and security concerns, which have been repeatedly brought up in BLM statements to media. 

Rather than review the points of contention in documents obtained by the Reno Gazette-Journal in June, Burning Man and BLM officials discussed some of the failures and successes of working together in years past.

It sounds like the meeting ended on a positive note, but didn’t go quite the way BMorg were expecting.

“There’s a lot of heat on everyone at the moment,” Goodell said after the 90-minute meeting. “The intention of the meeting probably changed in the past 24 hours.”

“We agreed to collaborate on what we can accomplish this year, and we looked back. We looked at the present and the past,” Goodell said. “We pointed out that there’s been a 40 percent increase in the event population and a 244 percent increase in cost for the permit,”

“This was a good meeting and an opportunity to discuss our mutual interests in coming up with a plan to support Burning Man, which is a truly unique cultural event on Public Lands. We are working to come up with a plan that is cost efficient and ensures public health and safety,” Ruhs said. “We are going to do all we can to make this year’s event a success. I am confident that BLM and BRC will be able to work together to address safety and environmental concerns.”

[Source: RGJ]

The meeting discussed 20 medical and safety issues. Only 2 have been resolved, and only 7 have even been acknowledged by BMOrg. The gates open in 50 days.

From the Las Vegas Review Journal‘s Washington DC bureau:

WASHINGTON – A month and a half before the scheduled start of this year’s desert festival, organizers of the annual Burning Man in Northern Nevada have yet to resolve more than 15 health and safety issues stemming from last year’s event, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

Officials from the BLM and the Burning Man organization were meeting Wednesday in Reno to discuss outstanding issues in advance of the Aug. 30-Sept. 7 festival in the Black Rock Desert.

The federal agency has yet to issue a permit for the event. John Ruhs, the BLM acting Nevada state director, said all conditions raised in a post-event review last year must be addressed for the BLM to allow this year’s event to proceed.

Ruhs stopped short of saying the BLM might shut down Burning Man, expressing confidence an agreement could be worked out.

“We have a long ways to go yet but I’m pretty confident we will as always be able to address issues together and get to a good place with them,” Ruhs said in an interview.

But the agency took the unusual step of making public a letter listing the outstanding health and safety issues. Of 20 compiled following the 2014 festival, the BLM said 18 remain to be resolved including improvements to its medical program, transportation management and security surrounding the festival’s signature burn events.

“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,” Ruhs said in the letter to the government affairs director of Black Rock City, LLC, the nonprofit that runs the festival. In addition, a woman from Wyoming was killed when she fell beneath a moving bus…

BLM officials on Wednesday denied they were in a tit-for-tat with Burning Man. The agency’s letter though makes a connection…

“We are now taking a top to bottom look at exactly what is needed,” Ruhs said, adding “While the BLM revises its statement of work, dialogue must also continue on a wide array of health, safety and environmental concerns raised by the BLM earlier this year.”

[Source: Las Vegas Review Journal]

Read the original letter from the BLM to BMOrg, outlining the concerns after last year’s event.

The 20 Safety, Health and Security Issues and Concerns are:

  1. BRC Medical Program
  2. BRC Fire, Rescue, Hazmat Programs
  3. Fatality Medical Response and On-Scene Management
  4. Transportation Management
  5. Art Project Management
  6. Security and Safety Plan for Scheduled Burn Events
  7. Sanitation Management
  8. Early Arrival Program
  9. D-Lot Design and Management
  10. Fuel Storage Management
  11. Deployment of Medical Resources
  12. Placement of Emergency Vehicles at the Airport
  13. Highway 34 Road Conditions
  14. Population Tracking and Reporting Program
  15. BRC Event Table of Organization
  16. BRC Event Management Program Description
  17. Participant Evacuation Contingency Plan
  18. Significant Incident Reporting
  19. Art Car operations
  20. Illicit narcotics

Time precludes me from going into much detail on this letter now, it warrants a post in itself as it reveals interesting details on a number of events last year, such as the art car fatality and Embrace burn. One thing in particular really jumped out:

Screenshot 2015-07-09 11.58.38

The letter makes frequent references to the 2014 HGH After Action Report (AAR). If anyone has a copy of that report, please send it in. It seems that HGH raised some concerns, these concerns went to the BLM who then raised them with BMOrg – who then fired HGH.

Did BMOrg try to scapegoat HGH here? Did they think that just ditching HGH would resolve the issues, since HGH are mentioned in many of them? Perhaps they didn’t like HGH giving the Feds a list of headaches problems to fix.

The number of patients being thrown around, 2,880, is very different from what has been reported in previous years. BMOrg’s own 2014 Afterburn report said there were 6,100 medical patients last year – more than double the number the government are using. The difference may be in this magic word “treated” – this year, there will be much less treatment provided on-site by CrowdRX.

This morning I have received an Anonymous tip-off, from someone with inside information about the medical discussions. Treat this as an unconfirmed rumor, but I trust the source.

It seems that, as usual, there is much more to the story than what we’re being told.

To recap, BMOrg ditched local providers Humboldt General, who have supported the event for the last 5 years; they replaced them with festival specialist CrowdRX, who have never done a remote location event except for one Phish concert in the 90’s. The official unofficial message seems to be “nothing will change, CrowdRX will just hire all the same people as last year”.

One thing the source revealed is that BMOrg have recently filed a public information request for Pat Songer’s records of HGH’s care at the previous years Burns. It doesn’t look like there’s going to be much continuity between medical services at Burning Man between 2014 and 2015, it’s a brave new world now.

The bombshell revelation from this source is to do with off-Playa medical treatment.

In previous years, your Burning Man ticket purchased you Medical Insurance at the event. If anything happened to you at Burning Man, even if you didn’t have insurance yourself, theirs would take care of your treatment.

In the past with HGH, all care was covered, on-Playa and transport off. If anything happened to you at Burning Man and you needed to be taken to a hospital, an HGH ambulance would take you to the nearest hospital (Reno). Humboldt’s plan was to treat everything they possibly could on-site at Black Rock City.

Image: American Med Flight

Image: American Med Flight

Now, if anything happens, you’ll have to be taken outside the event to a Default world hospital – most likely, still Reno/Sparks. By air. There will be no medical ground transportation for medical emergencies, the plan is air transport only. Fixed wing, no helicopters.

The price for an airlift with American Med Flight is $30,000.

The rumor is that certain members of the Org are getting a better rate if they become injured and need transport. This seems to approach the idea of “kickbacks”. There may also be issues of local county permitting, in relation to this business.

Screenshot 2015-07-09 12.24.26

This comment is from Anonymous Burner. We have no specific information on this arrangement.

Of course none of this should be a problem, since Obamacare means every person in the United States now has medical insurance. Someone else will pay! Oh, but what about the 20% of Burners from other countries? Hopefully they got travel insurance.

American Med Flight are offering a Burning Man insurance package. For only $25, if you do need their services, you won’t pay more than $7,500.

Towards the end of 2013, a former DPW manager blew the whistle on safety issues, then BMOrg lost their respected Emergency Services Director, Joseph Pred. Chaos seems to have ensued, with 18 major issues unresolved less than 2 months before the gates open. Let’s hope BMOrg can sort this out – in the circumstances, perhaps sticking with their existing partner HGH should be re-considered.


 

[Update 7/9/15 1:25pm]

Thanks to A Balanced Perspective for alerting us to the latest RGJ story, in which BMOrg say they have already responded to many of the BLMs concerns and there are a lot of falsehoods in the report. Keep reading for my comments.

[Update 7/9/15 4:47pm]

Someone Who Knows has given us this update:

HGH transported to Reno, just like REMSA did, not to Winnemucca. Careflight has been offering low cost membership that helps cover the whirly bird ride for years. That being said, fixed wing is actually a safer, more reliable option than helicopter in the black rock playa conditions and I highly doubt CrowdRX will not have ambulances

They sound like they do know. And I agree – surely there will be ambulances. Surely there will be helicopters. Coming soon.

[Update 7/9/15 5:30pm]

Francisco Ceballos from Humboldt General Hospital created a pro-active presentation last year, on what could be done to prevent injuries at Burning Man. One of their suggestions was to communicate with Burners via Burners.Me! Perhaps that may have led to their downfall…

Screenshot 2015-07-09 17.29.35

Francisco was right: we would be happy to share any information that could improve the safety and wellbeing of Burners.

[Update 7/9/15 6:30pm]

BMOrg have claimed that they sent a response to BLM addressing all 20 concerns in April. We call on them to share their documentation with all Burners, not just chosen journalists at the RGJ. Why are the “After Action Reports” not part of the “After Burn Reports”?

In April, Burning Man submitted a 40-page working document that addressed “every single point” that the BLM made, according to Burning Man CEO Marian Goodell…

Burning Man’s own assessment, which is put together in collaboration with various county, state and federal agencies, including the BLM, contradicts many of the BLM’s findings. According to the Burning Man’s series of “after action reports,” the BLM’s assessment has a number of inaccuracies, including:

All appropriate HAZMAT procedures were followed during the handling of bodily fluids following the fatal accident.

Emergency medical services vehicles were available at all times during the event, though Humboldt General Hospital did report a sustained 11 minutes during which time five of eight vehicles were dispatched and three were “idle.” Burning Man organizers are uncertain as to why the idle vehicles were not available for use during those 11 minutes.

Vehicles were not stranded during the delay, but instead were parked on the side of the road. Burning Man organizers at the time told participants that they had the option of going home, though most decided to wait until the weather and conditions improved.

Pyrotechnic effects, which usually include fireworks or explosive displays, are not allowed on art cars, though Burning Man does allow flame effects, which are automated fire features.

Burning Man also took issue with Kornze’s statement Wednesday that the San Francisco-based nonprofit had not addressed enough of the agency’s concerns, saying Burning Man staff have been working with a number of agencies to improve its operations.

Burning Man created a new emergency operations chief position, according to Graham, and hired a new medical services management provider, replacing Humboldt General Hospital.

[Source: RGJ]

Here’s what Acting Nevada State Director John Ruhs told them:

Screenshot 2015-07-09 18.28.12
13 items are still open. Item #20 is quite probably irresolvable, the BLM might as well drop it. BMOrg should cave to everything else, if they can sell 10,000 more tickets.
The BLM note in their letter that 13,545 people entered the event before it started with Early Access passes. Before the event opened, there were many people bicycling around sight-seeing and partying. Tut-tut!

 

Radio Interview With BMOrg’s Jim Graham on ChocoTacoGate [Update]

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KPNR has an interview with Burning Man spokesman Jim Graham about the latest controversy in the Burnerverse.

.

The Twitter-verse was abuzz over the weekend in Nevada over Burning Man.

You all know Burning Man as the Labor Day week no-holds-barred celebration in the Black Rock Desert in the far reaches of northern Nevada.

The buzz was over the perks that the Bureau of Land Management is seeking from Burning Man organizers. The federal agency oversees the week-long event.

The agency’s list of desires reads like something a celebrity might request backstage, including soft-serve ice cream 24 hours a day, seven days a week; steaks, hamburgers, the ice cream treat choco-tacos, and a list of condiments and items that number well more than 100.

Not only that, but the Bureau wants VIP quarters, flush toilets and more.

We requested an interview with Bureau of Land Management officials but received no answer.

[Source: KPNR]

Jim revealed some hard numbers for 2014 costs.

BLM Fees were:

$2.75m cost recovery

$700,000 commercial use fees – BMOrg see this as a tax on top of the ticket price. If this is 3% of the gate then ticket sales were $23.3 million.

$600,000 infrastructure

Total $4.05 million

2011 BLM fees $1.4 million, population 54,000

2015 BLM fees $4.9 million , population 70,000

Jim said that this is a substantial increase in fees, for only 16,000 more population

Of course, the 16,000 extra population is worth $6,544,000 in bonus ticket revenue to BMOrg (at $409 a ticket).

Expected population this year is now officially 70,000 – so there could be an extra 2,000 tickets floating around, to be added to STEP or OMG. This weekend I heard a rumor of 25 tickets being available for $1500 each, but you had to buy the whole 25. Not quite sure how something like that comes about…

Jim said that the $1 million cost figure being bandied around is not just for the Blue Pit Compound. The million dollars is the sum total of all of the requests for infrastructure this year: radios, catering, flush toilets. He said their catering requests were not that unusual…“We feed more than 50,000 meals during the week – our staff and volunteers.” So it looks like the BLM are asking for an increase in the infrastructure budget from $600k to $1 million.

Burning Man are not sure who the VIPs are for the 8 designated containers in the Blue Pit.

Jim said “We house all the BLM agents in the town of Gerlach, we rent out the hotels. Vast majority of them stay there, 14 mile drive from the town out to the site – we feel that’s pretty reasonable…We don’t begrudge anybody how they’re going to live when they’re out there. ”


[Update 6/30/15 1:45pm PST]

Did I say 2,000 extra tickets? How about 12,000?

At The Hill, the Deputy Director of the BLM seems to be giving a green light to 80,000 people this year. An extra 10,000 tickets to sell will certainly pay for a lot of chocotacos.

On Monday, BLM Deputy Director Steve Ellis said the agency should “take a fresh look” at the requests. 

“I am concerned about the reported costs associated with supporting the Burning Man festival. I have directed that BLM staff take a fresh look at the initial proposals for food and facilities at the event,” Ellis said in a statement.

“Our priority is to provide for participant and employee health and safety, sanitation, and environmental compliance at this unique event that is attended by up to 80,000 people in a remote part of the Nevada Desert. I have full confidence in BLM staff and their ability to develop a plan that is cost efficient and ensures public health and safety.”

That sure would be a win/win/win compromise for everybody. Burners would win 12,000 more tickets. BMOrg would win another $5 million revenues. BLM could get a nice VIP compound and increase the infrastructure budget $400k. Looks like a pretty good deal all around, let’s hope it works out that way.