2008 may have been the strongest year yet for Black Rock City’s Department Of Public Works (DPW). The team was able to streamline operations, stabilize from last year’s project additions, and put new changes into place, all while pushing through the year at a record pace.

In 2008, the number of work weekends was scaled down to a handful of concentrated efforts, including just 6 in the pre-season and 2 post-event for playa restoration. The result was a much higher attendance rate, and more focus on the larger tasks of the pre-season.

Once again this year the pre-event crew size was capped at 225 folks, striking a good balance between dedicated crews and rotating staff. More than 600 volunteers applied for a role in the DPW this year, and almost 40% of the volunteer crew were new to the team – the highest number of new faces that there have been in many years. The combination of experienced DPW crew, people new to DPW, and people new to Burning Man itself kept the energy level of the crew high, and provided fresh eyes and perspectives to some of this year’s challenges. Having so many new faces on the crew also shifted the tone of things a bit, and seemed to keep morale high throughout the year.

Our ability to house crewmembers in Gerlach during the pre-season once again hit capacity in 2008, and even with the cap on the crew size, the days before we moved to the playa were pretty cramped and uncomfortably crowded. Fortunately, those days are extremely busy, and tend to go pretty quickly. Should we decide to expand the build crew, however, it’s going to require some changes in our housing system.

Once we moved onto the event site, and the build was underway, things smoothed out, with one exception: our management of the Fistica Crew. When the First Camp and Arctica build crews merged in 2006 (creating Fistica), it was a logical step, as the two crews had similar tasks, and the job sites were in close proximity. With the addition of two extra Arctica stations at 3:00 and 9:00, and the extra distance this year between the Arctica and First Camp sites, our project manager was overburdened, the crew became stretched thin, and getting all four sites completed on time was a struggle. Having one of our assistant managers drop off the project only added to the difficult situation, and highlighted the fact that it’s time to reexamine how those projects are managed.

The DPW Management team implemented some minor changes in it’s structure in 2008 as well, and while this presented a few challenges during the year, it also provided an valuable opportunity to examine and optimize how DPW’s management operates as a whole. One of the results of this process was the addition of a new Manager On Duty scheduling system, which allowed the DPW Project Managers to rotate responsibility and time off throughout the event. This was excellent for morale, and gave many of our managers an opportunity to step into a larger role on the playa.

This year also saw the formal creation of a team called the “Fluffers”, a crew that serves as a rotating relief squad, moving from team to team on the playa with water, snacks, and a quick bit of music and shade. While this crew has operated informally in the past, making them an official, managed crew allowed them to grow and expand their scope, splitting sometimes into three teams and taking care of more of the crew than ever before.

The Playa Restoration crew size was capped at 100 again this year, which seems to be our optimal fighting weight. The larger city size made for the longest line sweep lines that we have ever seen, and prompted the creation of a second line sweep crew, giving us the ability to split off when necessary and cover more ground. We had several folks sign up specifically for Playa Restoration this year (and we’re seeing this more and more often), which helped to bring fresh energy and excitement to the team … it’s proving to be quite a boon to have so much enthusiasm involved in the process.

All in all, the year went very much according to plan. Each of the year’s challenges was met by a seasoned management team, and a creative, professional workforce, and in the end, 2008 proved to be a huge success for the Department of Public Works, and a huge success for Black Rock City.

Submitted by,

Logan Mirto