Logistics involves the procurement, maintenance, and transportation of materials, facilities, and personnel. The Logistics team of the Department of Public Works (DPW) handles the nitty-gritty details of an amazingly complex operation, the creation of a temporary city in the desert. If Logistics does this job well, it allows all the other departments to get on with doing their jobs. Logistics includes Services, DPW Dispatch/Depot, Purchasing, and Transportation/Heavy Equipment.
The Logistics team handles all of the rental contracts for the various services and equipment necessary to make Black Rock City’s public infrastructure a reality. Logistical planning for the year begins almost as soon as the team returns home from the previous year’s event. Planning includes seeking competitive bids for the services utilized on-playa each year. Logistics Services handles the rental of all job-site buildings, generators, light towers, heavy equipment, to name a few. With a few exceptions, if it is rented for the purposes of building or removing Black Rock City, Logistics Services handles the details. In addition to rentals, Services plans and schedules dust abatement trucks, staff commissary, and sanitation.
One notable change in 2006 was the rental of several generators fueled by biodiesel. This has been tried a couple of years ago with a single generator and the results were mixed. In 2006, Services tried again and the results were all positive. As part of the overall greening of The Man, Services expects to increase the number of event infrastructure’s generators that run on biodiesel.
DPW Dispatch resides in a 40 foot semi-trailer at the DPW Depot. The trailer is one of the first “structures” to take its place on the playa each year, and the crew of seven (plus or minus) operates 24/7 for approximately one month. At times, the job of Dispatch is like herding cats who are coordinating others carrying buckets of steam. The Dispatch office is a clearinghouse, welcome wagon, light in the night, resource allocator/provider, shower monitor, and activity director all rolled into one group of enflamed individuals. Dispatch members are drawn from a large volunteer pool, including newbies, returning dispatchers, some retirees from other Burning Man departments as well as several Senior Staff guest dispatchers. This reservoir of institutional knowledge again served the city well in 2006.
Dispatch monitors multiple radio channels and provides support and coordination services to many departments within the city (as well as the work ranch and Gerlach office). Dispatch staff oversee many Depot and DPW Services including receiving, potable and non-potable water, portable toilets, and all forms of fuel.
Again in 2006, the team handled an increase in responsibility for emergency services dispatch before and after the event. DPW Dispatch facilities continue to be upgraded; a dedicated channel to Gerlach proved to be very helpful, and more lighting created a buzz (it really did, driving the night shift bananas!). Radio difficulties continued. More radios were added to the fleet but there is always a need for more. Communications can be challenging but the long awaited tower at the ranch will be in place for the coming year and should free up a needed, repeated channel.
Interdepartmental cross-pollination continued with increased communication and understanding of the operations of Black Rock City and the Dispatch and Depot crews were right in the forefront of this movement.
Transportation and Heavy Equipment
Before each year’s event, most of Black Rock City’s public infrastructure moves via roadway from the production base at Black Rock Station then back again after the event. In the months before the event, crews load and prepare semi-trailers and shipping containers, which others then move by road to the playa. After the event, these trailers and containers must be reloaded in a relatively short period of time and removed from the playa.
The heavy machinery group, now called Support Services, works with the transport team to facilitate a smooth load in and out of the event. This relationship is particularly acute during post-event load out, when the event permit from the Bureau of Land Management creates a need to pack up and get the city off the desert in a quick and efficient way.
In 2006, Logistics focused on realistic schedules for arrival and departure dates of materials, containers, and trailers. Using the same staging system introduced in 2005 continues to improve efficiency by placing materials along the 3, 6, and 9 o’clock spokes in the city, where they await end-users or placement. In 2006, use of machinery and crews was much more efficient than in previous years.
DPW Support Services provides forklifts, cranes, Bobcats, boom lifts, and assorted other machinery both on and off-site throughout construction and tear down. Operators for these machines work long hours and often have other jobs on site.
Greatly improved planning for 2005 included face-to-face contact with many of the artists and departments who needed the team’s support months before the event. These discussions led to development of a realistic schedule of events months before anyone hit the playa. 2006 capitalized on these meetings by refining the way Support Services scheduled equipment, planned movements and dispatched crews. Often a piece of equipment could make stops along a route, working different projects as needed. More crew transporters (Cadillacs modified with a chop saw), were used to shuttle operators between jobs allowing the heavy equipment to remain on-site.
In 2004 the current process for dispatching heavy machinery was initiated, improving the interaction between DPW and Support Services. Beginning early in March, planners book a block of time for a crane and a forklift; in August, the crane and forklift turn up and perform the task. This organization is a huge leap, allowing for correct budgeting for machinery and staff time. Every effort is made to plan for all movements on the playa requiring the use of heavy equipment. This allows for contingencies to be worked into the schedule without putting undue stress on the Support Services crew. The efficiency of the operation in 2006 is a tribute to the planning and preparation that goes into choreographing such a complicated process.
Gerlach Administration/Purchasing Department
The management of the Purchasing department has remained stable for the past several years, and this continuity has allowed the team to become very good at the job. In 2006, the majority of this team had worked together in 2005. This resulted in the most efficient, stress-free year ever. Purchasing continued to handle the steadily rising volume of requests for materials from departments other than DPW. While this extra volume means more work, it also simplifies operations by reducing last-minute emergencies thus making Purchasing tasks easier during show time.
In 2006 the Purchasing department used a paper-based system for ordering and has been trying to move toward an all electronic ordering and approvals system. This turned out to be impractical mostly because of the short duration of the purchasing season and the extremely high volume and frantic pace. In 2006 we added a person to the Gerlach office staff who, as part of their job responsibility, entered all of transactions into QuickBooks. This freed up the Lead Buyer to focus on the job of purchasing rather than data entry. This greatly improved the team efficiency and added to the (relatively) stress-free environment in 2006.
Matt Morgan, Palmer Parker and Dave Pedroli