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The Big Hangup At Burning Man Is Cell Phones 167

Posted by samzenpus
from the take-a-message dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "L. J. Williamson writes in the LA Times that with no running water, no plumbing, and no electrical outlets Burning Man isn't the kind of place to expect full bars on your smartphone and for many of the participants that's a big part of its charm. 'If you want to partake in the true Burning Man experience, you should leave your phone at home,' says Mark Hansen. In past years, the closest cellular towers, designed to serve the nearby towns of Empire (population 206) and Gerlach (population 217), would quickly get overwhelmed each August when Black Rock City (population 50,000 or so) rose from the featureless playa. Although Burning Man attracts a sizable Silicon Valley contingent including tech giants like Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin — the feeling of being 'unplugged' has become an integral part of the Burning Man experience. But another part of the event is an intrepid, DIY ethos, and in that spirit, David Burgess, co-creator of OpenBTS, an open-source cellular network software, brought a homemade in 2008, an 'almost comical' setup that created a working cellular network that routed a few hundred calls over a 48-hour period. In each subsequent year, Burgess has improved the system's reach and expects to have about three-quarters of this year's event covered. Burning Man proved an ideal test bed for development of Burgess' system, which he has since made available for use in other areas without cellular networks. 'People who have a lot of experience in international aid say Burning Man is a very good simulation of a well-organized refugee camp,' says Burgess. 'Because there's no infrastructure, it forces us to contend with a lot of problems that our rural customers have to contend with in very remote places.'"
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The Big Hangup At Burning Man Is Cell Phones

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  • Re:FCC License? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Erbo (384) <obreerbo@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Monday August 26, 2013 @03:05PM (#44679123) Homepage Journal
    From the last linked article: "GSM operates on licensed bandwidth, so for any U.S. installation, the OpenBTS crew always obtains a FCC license and works with the local carrier to coordinate frequency use." As they should.

    (Speaking of radios and frequency coordination, I've wondered how big a presence amateur radio has at Burning Man. It seems like it'd be a natural fit.)

  • Re:cell service. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Varmint01 (415694) on Monday August 26, 2013 @05:51PM (#44680737)

    Burning Man doesn't rely on the 911 system for any of its EMS issues. There are two large aid stations that are staffed by professional doctors, nurses, paramedics, etc. (people who are certified to be able to provide Basic Life Support services at a minimum), which are open 24/7 while the event is taking place, and before and after for all of the people who volunteer their time to construct and deconstruct the city.

    On top of that, there is a fully functional Advanced Life Support facility (called Rampart) that is established in the center of the city and is meant to handle the very serious cases, of which there are of course a few every year. They have the ability to radio for air transport to Reno (the nearest large city with a real hospital) at a moment's notice. Rampart is airlock-sealed to keep the pervasive dust out and provide an environment that is as sterile as can be expected.

    Emergency services are taken very, very seriously at Burning Man, and they have a history that goes back a long, long way.

  • Re:cell service. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning@@@netzero...net> on Monday August 26, 2013 @06:15PM (#44680963) Homepage Journal

    When you're in the middle of nowhere, you aren't covered by anyone's 911 service. If the dispatcher didn't know about Burning Man, they might call out search & rescue I guess.

    First of all, I don't know anywhere in North America where you aren't covered by some sort of government agency that provides emergency services. The Burning Man festival in particular has the attention of the local sheriff's office as well as area medical clinics and even hospitals that are... well at least "nearby" so far as any real emergency services are concerned. Some parts of North America might require a couple hour response and the dispatcher might just say "live with it" in some cases, but if a real life threatening emergency happened even in the remote Yellowstone wilderness or northern Alaska, you had better believe that somebody can get to you sooner or later.

    Furthermore, the festival itself has its own security and medical corps (mostly volunteer) who are there to help out and can resolve most emergencies. It is utter bullshit to say that those who would receive such a call (and it is covered by the OpenBTS guys who do respond to 911 calls made on the system... they have made provisions just for that situation) would have no clue where to send those emergency services. I also promise that the local dispatchers who are there for the other 51 weeks of the year know exactly where the Burning Man festival is located at, and even know the major areas of the festival.

    911 made on the OpenBTS systems goes to volunteers who dispatch the appropriate response, usually with the festival security guys. 911 made on the commercial services goes to the sheriff's office, who then usually contacts the festival security as well to coordinate a response. When you get 30,000 people together anywhere, the local law enforcement damn well knows what is going on and how to get there, especially for an annual event like this, even if it is what you might call "in the middle of nowhere". "That is not in my area" would not be said at all, ever.

    The OpenBTS blog [blogspot.com] goes into some details about their system, although it will take some reading.

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