2007 was a landmark year for Black Rock City’s Department Of Public Works (DPW). New projects and challenges were introduced this year, on top of the regular jobs to be done. All three phases of our work season – Set Up, Tear Down, and Playa Restoration – showed solid growth and improvement, and the changes we put into play were effective, and helped us to have a strong year.
This year as before, the turnout for DPW volunteers was overwhelming. Over the course of the year more than 500 people offered to join the ranks. The DPW crew ended up with 225 volunteers for set up in 2007 — more folks than ever, and more new folks at one time than ever before. The teambuilding strategy involved adding new blood, and about a third of the team was new to the DPW experience, with 12 folks being new to Burning Man altogether. The higher crew numbers resulted in surprisingly few growing pains, and proved that we can work just as effectively as a larger team.
There were changes to the DPW Volunteer Management team as well. The DPW Crewmaster and Work Weekend Volunteer Coordinator roles stayed largely the same, while the Showtime Volunteer Coordinator position was eliminated, and those duties were shifted to the Gerlach Office Assistant during the height of the work season. This proved to be a successful balance, and is likely the team model that will be used next year.
This year there were only 6 pre-season Work Weekends – fewer than in years past. While planning the Work Weekends, the goal is to let the work drive the events, and have as many as necessary to get the all the pre-season work done. The crew that participated this year was incredibly effective at completing all the tasks, and only 6 weekends were needed to prepare for the main work season.
On top of the regular Work Season, two new projects came along this year. The first was that Fistica – the First Camp / Arctica construction team – was expanded to accommodate the two “Mini-Arcticas” in the 3:00 and 9:00 plazas. A second assistant manager was added to the team, and the number of Fistica crewmembers was expanded slightly so that it could be split into thirds and still remain balanced.
The other new project was the result of a donation of 1000 bicycles to Black Rock City’s Yellow Bike Program, which made the creation of a bicycle assembly crew necessary very late in the season. Unfortunately, it was too late to bring in additional crew, so the Bike Project crew was expanded from within the existing ranks, which made all the DPW teams slightly smaller than had been planned for. Having a larger crew than ever and still feeling understaffed was a challenge, but never stopped things from rolling along, and showed everyone how crucial it is to have enough crew for all the tasks at hand.
Normally, during the Event itself, most DPW crews have the week off to relax and enjoy the festival. This year however, there turned out to be a lot more to do… At around 3am on Tuesday morning of the event, when the prematurely-torched Man was still smoldering and wet, members of the DPW and the Gate crew arrived on the scene to help establish a safety perimeter around the Man base and to do what they could to salvage what was in the Green Man Pavillion. The next morning, over 100 DPW volunteers were at the DPW Depot, signing up to help with the rebuild. Over the 48 hours that followed, members of the Man Team, the DPW, Rangers and the Artery worked day and night at the Pavillion’s improvised construction site, building a new Man and getting an early start on the Playa Restoration efforts inside the Pavillion. The first Man had to come down, glass and charred wood had to be removed before the Pavillion could be opened back up – the whole site had to be rewired, rebuilt and restored. It was a tremendous effort, one that pushed all the teams involved harder than ever before… and by Thursday, everything came together, and a brand new Man stood where the old one had been. All the teams involved in the rebuild did a fantastic job, and it’s a testament to the skills and dedication of eveyone involved that it came together so smoothly.
At the end of the Event, a deliberate effort was made this year to reclaim the DPW Parade from the chaos of the last few years, and turn it back in the direction of celebration. This year’s parade was kicked off with a surprise BBQ, which set the tone for the day. The growing size of the DPW parade necessitated the creation this year of a crew to manage the Parade while it’s in motion – the DPW Outriders. All volunteers from within the DPW ranks, the Outriders created a buffer zone between the DPW and the citizens, and kept the Parade moving through the denser parts of Black Rock City. Both the BBQ and the addition of the Outriders showed how small, focused changes can have really significant effects on an event.
As was predicted in last year’s Afterburn report, this year’s Playa Restoration Crew had to be capped. The limit was set at 100 folks, enough for 2 line sweep teams to work concurrently, and enough for 5 roaming Special Forces crews. Morale was high all the way through Playa Restoration, and of the 100 souls that started on the task, 85 were there until the very last day, when we pulled the last T-stake from the ground, and headed home for Decompression.
For all the changes and challenges in this year’s production, it still managed to be a fantastic time, and was another great notch in the belt for the Department of Public Works.