The Department of Public Works (DPW) takes prides in dedicating weeks of hard work to the planning and construction of Black Rock City’s infrastructure and many of the other projects that help to make the city the miracle of transience that it is. To ensure that BRC truly is transient, DPW works for weeks after the Man burns to restore the playa to the pristine condition in which we found it (or cleaner than we found it, as is frequently the case).
This year, DPW continued to streamline operations and to improve the way we do business. We had a much tighter management structure this year than in previous years. Managers met frequently to ensure that projects proceeded on schedule and to resolve supply and labor difficulties. The airport, construction of the Temple (the base on which the Man stood) and community shade structures, the city survey, street sign installation, creation of burn platforms, Nevada property improvements, and inventory are just some of the yearly projects that we continued to oversee and improve. In 2003, we continued to manage the port-a-potty contract, staff golf cart maintenance, firewood delivery, debris box distribution, heavy machinery operations, and dust abatement.
In 2002, DPW had cut its labor force by some 100 people from an all-time high the previous year. This transition brought difficult separations of many people who have been associated with DPW for years, with all the history and experience those relationships imply. Unfortunately, that history was frequently troubled and, like a dysfunctional family, impaired the functioning of the whole department. In 2003, we continued the difficult process of culling the DPW ranks in an effort to operate in a more safe and professional manner. This project has been largely successful, and, as labor is the cornerstone of a service organization like DPW, we continue to strive for a professional work force while keeping in mind the long-time loyalty of so many folks.
DPW operations would be extremely difficult to complete without the Burning Man properties in Nevada. 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, and offices in the town of Gerlach. Black Rock Station has been widely discussed in the media lately, as Burning Man negotiates with Washoe County for the special use permits needed to continue operating there. In 2003, these negotiations resulted in removal of the Beach Club (the communal dining area and chill-space), and we corralled crew camps in a central area. The permit negotiations have much broader implications, however, and we have been doing our best to work with county officials to ensure the continued viability of the work ranch. Many changes are in store for 2004, but we will still be utilizing Black Rock Station as the staging ground for the Burning Man event.
Once again, the town of Gerlach, Nevada was the home of the DPW Business Office. The expanded Purchasing Department continued in its second year, and we are finally getting event logistics down to a science. These offices are the hub of communication for the Nevada activities and a main conduit for the dizzying volume of contractual and purchasing information necessary to build and remove a city of 32,000 people. Beyond Gerlach, a very visible arm of this logistical function is the Transportation Department, which is charged with moving all the material for Black Rock City from wherever it is to wherever it is needed and then typically back again.
In 2003, DPW continued its expanded commitment to safety. An Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) remained on-call at all times during our operations, and a dedicated Safety Manager was charged with making sure that crews were equipped with gloves and eye and ear protection. This manager also saw that proper signage was hung about the ranch indicating first aid kits, fire extinguishers, and no smoking areas.
Many challenges await DPW in 2004, as we adjust to the new modes of operation demanded by the ongoing permitting process for Burning Man’s Nevada properties. We continue to evolve our management structure and to streamline our operating procedures to better fulfill our responsibilities to the Burning Man community. Whatever the challenges, we will continue to innovate and overcome, as we have done in the past.
Matt “HazMatt” Morgan