AFTERBURN REPORT 2004
Black Rock City is a modern day Camelot equivalent. The team that creates the public infrastructure for our metropolis, fuels its fires (literally and figuratively), and returns the desert to its pre-urban state is known as the Department of Public Works, or DPW. DPW has grown from earlier, itinerant roots to become a year-round organism, working hard in the off-season to evaluate, plan, and predict, then swelling to several hundred individuals who labor behind the scenes to manifest critical parts of the city's playscape for our cast of thousands.
The DPW itself is also recreated annually, as ideas that worked are incorporated into permanent practice, and those that didn't are modified or deleted. In 2004, Logistics was formalized as a division within DPW to encompass a broad spectrum of activities. A Logistics Superintendent was chosen from the four-person DPW Council. The Logistics Superintendent and most of the managers within Logistics had new roles this year, though all had previously worked for DPW.
Logistics was split into three categories: Service operations, depot operations, and utilities. Service operations began early in June with negotiation of equipment rentals and several logistics contracts. During the city's build-out, services also included transportation of materials and equipment between Black Rock City, Black Rock Station (the "work ranch" about 12 miles north), and San Francisco, as well as heavy machinery dispatch, golf cart maintenance, inventory management, and materials distribution. Operations for dispatch, fuel delivery, staging, and receiving were run from the DPW Depot located at 5:30, outside the outermost ring street. The utilities function within DPW Logistics focuses on large service contracts managed by DPW such as distribution and acquisition of potable and nonpotable water, dust abatement, portable toilets, grey water disposal, power grid management for Center Camp, generator management for smaller power grids, and RV services.
The DPW Depot is the hub of DPW services that contains the surreal blend of magic and madness leading to construction of the city's infrastructure. The area encompasses the Dispatch trailer (a 40-foot semi-trailer), the DPW workshop, and other utility shop facilities, along with lockup areas for various fuels, materials, and supplies and storage for all things large and small. Deliveries for projects throughout the city arrive there to be off-loaded, checked, and distributed one way or another to the proper locations — on the first try for the most part.
The Depot is blessed with one of the first shade structures in the city (and the largest aside from the Cafe), so it becomes a natural meeting, assembly, and regrouping area. All 271 spires, for example, are assembled there.
The Depot functioned well in 2004, although lessons were learned and changes will, of course, occur — some planned, some not. Stationing a forklift at the Depot a lot of the time was a great way to smooth activities there.
The DPW Dispatch trailer is one of the first vehicles on the playa and serves as focal point for people and services in the Depot area. Within the trailer, the DPW Dispatch crew works 24/7 to facilitate and coordinate service activity, primarily through multiple radio channels but also through interactions with walk-in traffic.
Dispatching needs change over the life of the city each year. Before and after the event, dispatchers concentrate largely on getting everything to the right place at the right time. During the event, this focus changes to more of a maintenance role involving an ongoing attempt to herd all forms of cats in a way that creates the smoothest possible flow of services, ranging from all types of fuel deliveries and water services to, um, renovations of portable toilets.
DPW Dispatch also coordinates information, needs, and responses with dispatch functions for the Black Rock Rangers and Emergency Services. For the first time in 2004, DPW Dispatch sometimes took on responsibility for all late-night response requests, which worked well for all departments.
One set of recurring problems affected radio communications. Once again in 2004, difficulties emerged ranging from repeater problems to a shortage of portable radios and incorrect programming in available radios. The brighter side of the need for improvement in this area is that things will indeed improve for 2005!
DPW Logistics also handles electricity service in the central part of the city. Every year, Burning Man connects a power grid feeding hundreds of kilowatts into the Cafe and the many infrastructure buildings and staff camps near Center Circle. This grid runs power through cables trenched in two circles around Center Camp, and building it is an enormous undertaking.
Biodiesel fuel was tested in one of our generators running full-time at the Greeters Station. This generator ran on triple duty for approximately 2 weeks on 100 percent biodiesel. The initial test was successful enough to try more of these units, but the test generator required more maintenance than others in the city, and biodeisel costs more than regular diesel fuel at this time. We are considering using biodiesel in some of the diesel-powered vehicle fleet and using a 20 percent regular diesel blend in several generator units next year.
Heavy Machinery and Transport
Before and after the event, most of the city infrastructure moves by road between the event site and the production base at Black Rock Station. During the build-out, crews load and prepare trailers and containers, which are then moved by road from the ranch 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 crews work with transport crews to facilitate a smooth load-in and load-out of the event materials. This relationship is particularly tight during post-event load-out when DPW must pack up and clear the desert quickly and efficiently to facilitate compliance with stipulations of our permit from the Bureau of Land Management.
Due to the reorganization of Black Rock Station, we now rarely send loose loads off the playa. All material movements now need access to machinery capable of loading into shipping containers and trailers. To accommodate this change, we are looking at the way that we schedule transportation and our choice of machinery for 2005 to make the best use of our machinery, crews, and transport contractors.
Transportation started earlier in 2004 than in years past, which caused some issues in other areas, as other departments' belongings were sometimes delivered before they were ready to accept the shipments. Transport was also finished earlier than ever. In 2005, a specific date to begin transport will be selected and enforced.
DPW Logistics provides forklifts, cranes, Bobcats, boom lifts, and assorted other machinery both on- and off-site throughout the build-out, during the event, and through clean-up. Operators of these machines work long hours and often have other jobs on-site. For example, many of them are members of the Cafe rigging crew.
In 2004, we sought to streamline the interaction between DPW and the Art Support Services (ASS) and Art departments. This modification included changes to the way we dispatch heavy machinery to improve interactions with end users. This operational change resulted in vastly improved efficiency and quicker responses, often in the range of 15 minutes from a request to arrival of the equipment. We will endeavor to further improve this process in 2005.
One major advantage of the new system was accurate tracking of the duration and frequency of machinery use by different departments and artists. This data deepens our insight into the realistic machinery needs of the event. We expect to achieve real-time tracking of equipment throughout the 2005 event and to sharpen accuracy of budgeting for equipment, crew time, and the real cost of major projects.
Potable and Non-potable Water and Dust Abatement
Potable water comes from Gerlach and is delivered to infrastructure establishments. Burning Man made potable water available to participants for a fee in 2003, but the growing need within the Project infrastructure prevented us from continuing this service. Some theme camps got together and contracted with their own potable-water delivery company.
Our source of non-potable water switched this year from the Frog Hot Springs property north of the city to an offshoot of Fly Hot Springs. The water trucks that provide dust abatement had to travel three times farther to deliver water than in 2003, which forced us to hire more trucks, resulting in a total of 12 trucks watering the event roads this year. Participants should remember that the water we use on the roads is not potable, and they risk their health when they bathe in it.
Dust abatement plans for 2004 included a palliative material spread on the Gate Road, because we anticipated a dry year, even with the additional water trucks hired. This environmentally friendly, water-soluble biodegradable measure was largely successful, although it didn't last as long as we had hoped.
The creation of the Logistics department within DPW was a valuable move that helped to streamline event production. Every year has its bumps and snags, but overall, 2004 went very smoothly with many lessons learned. The 2005 DPW Logistics department will build further on already solid ground.
Ada Lee Chester, Simon Clark, and Palmer Parker