The Department of Public Works (DPW) takes pride in being the first people on playa every year and the last to leave. DPW dedicates weeks of hard work to the planning and construction of Black Rock City’s infrastructure, along with many of the other projects that help to make the city the miracle of transience that it is. To ensure that BRC truly is temporary, DPW works for weeks after the Man burns to restore the playa to the pristine condition in which our first arrivals found it.

Late in 2003, DPW went through a major management restructuring. For various reasons, senior management stepped down. Several folks who already worked year-round for DPW stepped forward and asked the Black Rock City LLC to let us try running the department as a 4-person council. They gave us a shot. Even though everyone on the council had worked with DPW for years, certain aspects of the job still were unfamiliar to us. We spent several months redefining the organizational hierarchy of DPW and creating job descriptions for all of its myriad tasks. This was a difficult but necessary period for the new management, and we pulled through it to prove that we could run DPW without too much of a hitch.

Due to the restructuring of the upper management, our staffing efforts got a late start. Hiring many experienced managers and moving people into new manager roles really helped the whole event come into fruition. Without the crews, the city wouldn’t exist. Getting an earlier start on 2005 will allow the managers to be more involved in the entire process of making their projects and the entire event happen. DPW continued the practice of having a medical person on staff during operations. This change provided obvious benefits in 2003 and helped promote safety awareness.

In 2004, DPW began participating in “integrated plan” meetings with the other Burning Man departments that worked with the DPW on playa such as Media Mecca, Rangers, Art, and all Community Services groups. The meetings helped with coordination of timelines for project completion and schedules for material drops, as well as anything else that required DPW participation. By all accounts, these meetings were a great success; they greatly improved communication and understanding between DPW and the other departments. In 2004, we continued to manage the port-a-potty contract, staff golf cart maintenance, firewood delivery, debris box distribution, heavy machinery operations, and dust abatement as well as all of the other things typically handled by DPW.

DPW operations would be extremely difficult to complete without the Burning Man Nevada properties. These properties consist of Black Rock Station, a work ranch situated in the Hualapai Valley a few miles beyond the event site on Route 34, offices in the town of Gerlach, and the Black Rock Saloon, also in Gerlach. Many remember the intense zoning disputes with Washoe County officials over Black Rock Station during 2003. Read more about the outcome and the current state of affairs in the Nevada properties report.

Once again, the town of Gerlach, Nevada, was the home of the DPW Business Office. The Purchasing department continued to procure the supplies that make building Black Rock City possible. In the past, logistical functions, such as heavy equipment rental and transportation, were also handled by the Purchasing department, but in 2004, a new Logistics department split out from Purchasing to better handle the intricacies of these inputs.

DPW faced many challenges in 2004, not the least of which was to reinvent its management and work processes. It was a difficult year. We could no longer live or eat on the ranch; we had to adjust the ways we worked and played. Our presence on that property had defined DPW to a certain extent, and nobody was really sure what would happen to us when we became town folk. We adapted to this adversity, and to every other challenge that came up, with aplomb. Adaptability is really what defines DPW; we roll with the punches, and we make it work.

Submitted by,
Matt “Hazmatt” Morgan and Erin “Playground” MacCool