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 next 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, etc. With some notable 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 the dust abatement trucks and the staff commissary as well as sanitation.
These tasks proceeded without any major problems in 2005. Unfortunately, the DPW Council member who had been heading up Services left in 2005, and the remaining members of the council assumed oversight of the services portion of the logistics team. Additionally, some contracts formerly handled by someone outside of DPW became the team’s responsibility, and these workers found themselves overtaxed. The Services team managed to get through this difficult adjustment and learned a lot in the process. 2006 should go even more smoothly with responsibilities now stabilized; if not, everyone will adapt, as they always do.
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 its crew of seven (plus or minus) operates 24/7 for about a month. At times, the job of Dispatch is like herding cats that are coordinating others carrying buckets of steam. This 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, and some retired from other Burning Man departments as well as several Senior Staff guest dispatchers. The reservoir of institutional knowledge served the city well in 2005.
DPW 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 oversees many Depot and DPW Services including receiving, potable and nonpotable water, portable toilets, and all forms of fuel. For 2005, the team handled an increase in responsibility for emergency services dispatch before and after the event. DPW Dispatch facilities were upgraded for 2005 to include paging capability, which proved very helpful. The radio difficulties of 2004 were largely absent, although the ever-present need for more radios will be addressed in 2006.
The 2005 event also saw increased interdepartmental cross-pollination, with some Dispatch members also working in other areas, including Lanceland, the main electrical grid. This change worked well and provided collective benefits to Burning Man and the city’s participants.
Transportation and Heavy Equipment
Before and after each year’s event, most of Black Rock City’s public infrastructure moves via roadway from the production base at Black Rock Station. In the months before the event, crews load and prepare trailers and 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 works with the transport team to facilitate a smooth load in and load 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.
Planning for 2005 focused on realistic schedules for arrival and departure dates of materials, containers, and trailers. A new staging system improved efficiency by placing materials along the 3, 6, and 9 o’clock spokes in the city, where they could wait until required by the end users or placement could be facilitated. Use of machinery and crews was much more efficient than in previous years.
DPW Logistics 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. Many of them are members of the Café rigging (Aftermath) crew.
Greatly improved forward planning for 2005 included face-to-face contact with many of the artists and departments who needed the teams support months before the event. These discussions led to development of a realistic schedule of events months before anyone hit the playa.
In 2004 the current process for dispatching heavy machinery was initiated, improving the interaction between DPW and Art Support Services (ASS) as the Heavy Machinery crew are members of both departments. In March, planners book a block of time for a crane and a forklift to facilitate the construction of an honorarium sculpture; 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.
Greatly improved tracking of operations gives a much better picture of actual machinery needs of the event, which gives far better budgeting for machinery and staff and effective targeting of resources. This step forward means that the team knows not only what was supposed to be done but also what actually was done. Therefore the need to respond to an unforeseen event on playa finds planners aware of what resources are actually available without affecting the needs of others.
Gerlach Administration/Purchasing Department
The DPW Purchasing team joined with the broader Logistics unit for 2005. 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. Purchasing has handled a 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.
Over the past few years, Purchasing has been trying to move to a computerized system of order tracking that can inform various departments of the impact of their spending on their budgets. The 2005 event brought a reminder that the first concern in such a system must be flexibility. Since Purchasing handles such a high volume of materials in such a compressed time span, activities must move forward regardless of any system failure, such as technology not working out as hoped for 2005. The purchasing process had to return to something close to the paper-based process of four years ago.
The Purchasing department completed its task without any outward difficulties. The paper-based system worked fine but created more stress and work on the back end, because someone had to sort through so much paperwork and complete data entry. One important lesson for the Purchasing team is that the department needs to be involved with any project that will require materials for the event. A lack of participation at an early stage limits the team’s ability to facilitate materials acquisitions and to troubleshoot any difficulties that may arise.
Matt Morgan, Palmer Parker, and Simon Clark