|Sep. 8th, 2010 09:48 am "Go for Black Rock"|
I just returned from my annual trek to Burning Man, where this year I did something new: volunteered as one of Burning Man's 911 dispatchers. Wow, what a rush!2 comments - Leave a comment
Every year at Burning Man, "Black Rock City" springs forth from the dust. It's a temporary city of 50,000 people; for a week, it's the 5th largest city in Nevada. Like any city that size, it has an Emergency Services Department (ESD) to handle emergencies, mostly fire and medical.
Burning Man has thousands of staff (both paid and volunteer), organized into dozens of departments. Since there is little or no cell phone coverage, everything is coordinated through hundreds of handheld radios on dozens of different channels. To simplify life for radio users, the radios issued to a particular department are usually programmed with only the channels that department is likely to need (somebody working in the Center Camp Cafe, for example, might need to be able to reach somebody in the Art department, but probably doesn't need to be able to reach Heavy Machinery or the Airport).
Every Burning Man radio, though, includes "Channel 9", the emergency channel. It is monitored 24/7 throughout the event by ESD dispatchers; by long tradition, ESD dispatch uses the radio call sign "Black Rock". Everybody with a staff radio learns that, if you have an emergency, you switch to Channel 9 and call for Black Rock.
Channel 9 is also monitored by dispatchers for the Black Rock Rangers, who use call sign "Khaki". Because both Black Rock and Khaki are already on that channel anyway, we use it to coordinate routine stuff between ESD and the Rangers. So, if you listen on Channel 9, you'll hear a steady low-key stream of calls like Rangers requesting medical assistance from ESD, ESD requesting help with crowd control from the Rangers, and so forth.
Several times a day, though, a new voice will break in on Channel 9, usually sounding a bit excited and anxious, as somebody calls for help: "Black Rock, Black Rock, this is so-and-so!" Somebody is hurt, somebody needs help, something bad has happened (or is about to)...
And when we answer in that calm, cool, in-command dispatcher's tone of voice, "Go for Black Rock", they calm down... We hear you. We're here for you. We've got you covered. We can handle it. We're going to make it all OK. We're Black Rock, and everything is going to be just fine.