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Working Through The Pandemic

Jeff Frank, Vice President of Preconstruction, Tutor Perini Building Corp

Working Through The PandemicJeff Frank, Vice President of Preconstruction, Tutor Perini Building Corp

It’ll soon be two years since the COVID-19 pandemic began and the world as we knew it in 2019 and before, changed. Society is still talking about masks, disinfection, quarantines, and more recently, vac­cines and boosters. All topics of discus­sion that would’ve seemed confusing and even pointless a mere three years ago, but which even a child can understand now.

But one thing hasn’t changed: the services we, the Miami-Dade County Department of Solid Waste Management (DSWM), provide to our customers.

Practically all the services DSWM provides continued—and continue to this day—with only a small hiccup here and there.

The nature of the solid waste industry—and more specifically, the way we operate—made the transition from pre-pandemic to pandemic worlds seamless for us. Years before, we had changed our waste collection operations from the traditional three-person crew—a driver and two persons in the back of a rear-loader garbage truck—to an automated truck operated by just one person. So now, a sole driver operates a side-loader truck, picking up garbage from approximately 1,100 homes per day. To put this into perspective, we serve about 350,000 households with twice-weekly waste collection service and other services.

This type of operation makes social distancing easy. Nevertheless, after COVID began, we made sure to sanitize all our trucks regularly, and ensured all employees had personal protective equipment (masks and gloves), as well as sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer. We’re still doing those things today.

To the extent possible, administrative employees have been working from home (and continue to do so).

 

At our 13 Neighborhood Trash and Recycling Centers (drop-off sites for certain types of waste items such as tree branches and furniture), customers had always been required to present identification at the entrance, to determine if they were eligible to use the centers. They still do, but now our employees scan IDs through the customers’ car windows.

At our disposal sites— landfills, transfer stations and the Resources Recovery Facility where we convert much of our waste into electrical energy—the way we operate tends to lend itself to social distancing as well. Employees deal with the commercial.

 

customers who use these facilities, by phone or email as much as possible. Onsite at these facilities, you typically have a couple of employees who guide trucks to specific sites for dumping waste so there is little physical contact.

At one point, early during the pandemic when masks were hard to come by, a small group of our employees came up with a novel solution to address the scarcity of masks. Promotional t-shirts were “donated” by our Public Information and Outreach Division and several employee volunteers who knew how to sew offered to sew the t-shirts into masks. This helped us keep frontline employees supplied and safe, until we were once again able to order masks for them.

The credit for thinking outside the box and making sure we were able to operate despite COVID-19 goes to our employees and senior management team.

 

customers who use these facilities, by phone or email as much as possible. Onsite at these facilities, you typically have a couple of employees who guide trucks to specific sites for dumping waste so there is little physical contact.

At one point, early during the pandemic when masks were hard to come by, a small group of our employees came up with a novel solution to address the scarcity of masks. Promotional t-shirts were “donated” by our Public Information and Outreach Division and several employee volunteers who knew how to sew offered to sew the t-shirts into masks. This helped us keep frontline employees supplied and safe, until we were once again able to order masks for them.

The credit for thinking outside the box and making sure we were able to operate despite COVID-19 goes to our employees and senior management team.

 

Experience with crises also helped.

In 2016, Miami-Dade County became ground zero in the United States for transmission of the mosquito-borne Zika virus. At the time, and to this day, mosquito control in Miami-Dade County was managed by us, DSWM. Although the “hands-on” work was conducted by the Mosquito Control Division, the solid waste side provided the support necessary to make Miami-Dade County, Florida, the first place on earth to end an outbreak of Zika successfully.

If that wasn’t enough, 2017 brought another, more challenging test. Hurricane Irma touched pretty much everywhere in Florida, especially the Keys, which bore the brunt of what was a monster Category 4 storm.

Although Miami-Dade escaped the worst effects of Irma, we were by no means spared. One of the most noticeable consequences of Irma on Miami-Dade was the amount of debris it left behind. Dead vegetation, fencing and other detritus covered the streets of Miami- Dade County—all over the county, in fact.

It fell upon DSWM to take the lead in cleanup efforts. Fortunately, our team, working with several pre-qualified contractors, successfully cleaned up the streets of Miami-Dade County in a little more than three months. This was quite a remarkable accomplishment, considering we were competing for many of the same disaster cleanup contractors that other parts of the state and even Texas (which had been hit a month earlier by the devastating Hurricane Harvey) were seeking to hire.

By the time everything was said and done, DSWM and its contractors had removed, ground down (for volume reduction) and disposed of nearly 4 million cubic yards of storm debris from our 320-square-mile service area. All this, while we were still providing our regular waste and recycling collection, and disposal services to our residents.

Nobody knows what 2022 will bring. I’m pretty sure we’re all hoping it brings an end to the pandemic and no new surprises (I know I am). But I feel fortunate knowing I have a team on my side—the DSWM team—that has proven, time and again, it is up to any challenge.

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