Burning Man’s “MudPocalypse” is instructive…It shows how bad media reporting is. It’s been framed as a big disaster of planning gone wrong. That’s not even remotely accurate. I was in contact with people on-playa the whole time. For anyone with real Burning Man experience, this is laughable. The Burning Man organization and community is a model for resilience (at least over the course of a week-long event. Here’s why:

🔥 Much of what’s reported is par for the course. For example, the 4-7 hour Exodus (exodus is what we call the exit day, it’s not the “people are fleeing a disaster” meaning of exodus) is standard. It had little to do with the rain. I’ve waited up to 11 hours. 70,000 people exiting onto a 2-lane highway safely takes a long time.

🔥 The planning was superb. The planning didn’t go wrong. It went very, very right. The Burning Man organization had wargamed this scenario. They delivered cell phone towers to the playa so people could make plans. They kept port-potties clean and well-stocked. They had a web page with clear communication so everyone knew what was happening and what to expect. (https://burningman.org/event/wetplaya2023/)

Furthermore, the Burning Man Organization actually pays for hyper-local weather reports every year, so they can start ramping up contingency plans the moment it looks like those plans will be needed.

🔥 There were plenty of supplies. The very ethos of the event includes Radical Self-Reliance. Everyone who attends is expected to bring *everything* they need to survive for a week. Including a bucket and pee bottle if necessary. There was never a shortage of supplies, and many camps have even said (on TV) that they still had a huge surplus and were trying like crazy to give the extra away. (This happens every years)

🔥 People helped each other. That’s the point. Other guiding principles are Community Effort and Civic Responsibility. You may never have experienced this in daily life–I know I hadn’t. On-Playa, people simply help each other out all the time. Constantly. If a camp was struggling for some reason (needing to move electrical cords, needing extra supplies, etc.), surrounding camps just pitched in to help.

🔥 People were already diligent. Leave No Trace: Another principle is Leave No Trace. Everyone is expected to carry out everything they bring in. So participants are naturally very careful about the ecology. This did not change during the mud, though the mud definitely made it harder to do a LNT sweep (because things may have been buried by the mud). The “Playa restoration crew” is going to have their work cut out for them in the next few weeks making sure the Playa is in perfect condition.

🔥 People had a good time. Watch the media interviews with actual participants. It’s funny watching news anchors try so hard for a story of tragedy, while almost every participant interviewed says “it was wet and muddy and that was kind of a bummer, so we build mud slides and mud sculptures and walked around instead of riding our bikes and played board games and had a good time.

The lessons

  • Take media reporting skeptically. They’re searching for the disaster story, not the accurate story.
  • Learn to do risk management. The Burning Man Org wargamed wet Playa scenarios, so they knew what to do when it happened.
  • Take responsibility for yourself, while helping others. The combination of “be self-reliant” and “take care of your community” is powerful. If everyone does it, then when you fall short in your own preparations, people can help you out, and vice versa.

Lessons from Burning Man “Mudpocalypse”…

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