Gerlach Administration

Production Services is a new term for the functions that in 2002 comprised the DPW Purchasing department and Gerlach office administration. These services included bid research, purchasing, transportation-run coordination, rentals, receiving, bookkeeping, office management, local PR and DPW departmental budgeting. In 2002, the role of the DPW Purchasing department was expanded with a corresponding increase in the number of departmental staff. Also, new jobs were defined to facilitate the building of Black Rock City.

In 2001, the Purchasing department consisted of one purchasing manager and two assistants. Such a small staff struggled to stay on-task sourcing materials or handling payroll, etc., while dealing with constant interruptions by incoming phone calls, faxes, radio transmissions, and visitors stopping by the office. While these events are distracting, they are also necessary. Since no telephone landlines or mail delivery link the office with the work ranch or the Playa, all incoming and outgoing communications and packages must be routed through the Gerlach office staff. With the addition of an office manager in 2002, communications ran much more smoothly, allowing the rest of the team to focus on their respective tasks rather than being sidetracked by the telephone, radio, or important well-wisher.

The purchasing agent has the difficult task of managing the acquisition of goods to build a city that houses nearly 30,000 people. This staff member is accountable to the Budget committee and serves all departments within DPW and the greater organization. The purchasing agent is responsible for collecting material requests from project and department managers and finding sources for those materials that offer the best possible deals. This work is often done with little notice, although efforts are being made to help managers plan ahead for material needs. The scope of departmental requests varies from heavy machinery, such as an 80-foot crane for lifting the Man, to items like cots for the Emergency Services Department.

DPW is the largest user of purchased materials. Lumber, equipment, and other material is required for major projects such as the Man, the Café, and the fence to name a few. Production Services coordinates the runners who travel through Nevada (and California if need be) to pick up everything from scrap metal to Post-it® notes. This is a huge task, considering runs are often required daily and the event is in such a remote location. Additionally, Purchasing develops and maintains relationships with many of the vendors that provide the services that make life on the playa possible, such as the portable toilets and water trucks. This purchasing activity along with accounting and increasingly complex DPW activities created a need for a Business Processes committee that discusses and plans purchasing practices and business-related process management for the organization as a whole.

A project management tool, the Gantt chart, was introduced into the project management process this year. An overall event timeline helped staff to ensure efficiency and timeliness in obtaining equipment and materials. It also facilitated coordination of crews with project needs. Tracking jobs and crews allowed budgets to be maintained more efficiently and projects to be completed.

Contracts were drawn up and managed this year through Production Services for the portable toilets, heavy machinery, generators, water trucks for roads and fire suppression, individual labor contractors, and transportation services, among others. Each of these contracts represents a different management challenge. Managing heavy machinery needs, for example, is concerned with obtaining very expensive equipment and arranging its transportation to receiving, and then also to different locations for multiple people and purposes.

This year one of the new positions added to DPW Production Services was that of receiver. In 2002, one of the first tasks of the receiver was to establish a staging area for all the materials that would soon flow through the shop on the way to various project sites. This person was responsible for knowing when a supply run was due or a delivery was scheduled and meeting the truck to check goods received against goods ordered. This year our receiver was also the de facto shop steward, handling inventory and allocation of goods.

Once the DPW moves on-playa to begin the construction of Black Rock City, the receiver’s job is further complicated, as deliveries might be made either to the office or to the playa. As the person in charge of knowing what got dropped where, when, and for whom, the receiver must be available on radio to answer questions from project managers about the availability of their supplies. The job also overlaps with inventory tracking, transportation, and dispatch.

Within Production Services, the bookkeeping staff is responsible for processing data for all financial transactions and conveying that information to the main accounting offices in San Francisco. Before an invoice or receipt is sent to San Francisco Accounting, it is coded so that each item is assigned to a specific budget category. The department/project is also noted so that the cost of an item can be charged back to the appropriate budget. In previous years, final accounting would have to wait until December or January, as the volume of paperwork generated during the summer months outstripped the department’s capacity to process it.

This year, the addition of a dedicated Gerlach-based bookkeeper reduced the turnaround time for paperwork and consequently the time required to record expenses in the main accounting system. This improvement also allowed for better tracking of real-time costs of business than had been achieved before. In Nevada, the bookkeeper acts as a liaison between the Gerlach office and the main accounting department in San Francisco.

The Gerlach office enjoyed help from over 21 dedicated staff members and volunteers who kept the office running throughout event. Fully staffed by a purchasing agent, two receivers, a bookkeeper, four runners, innumerable kindly volunteers to fill the gaps, and an operations manager, DPW Production Services continues to refine, grow, and develop.

Submitted by,

Ada Lee Chester and Matt Morgan aka Hazmatt