Job duties generally don’t require “staying prepared for a global pandemic.” But Mario Guzman, MPA, CAFM, director of support services for the City of West Palm Beach (Florida), believes that having the right work culture in place to begin with will make dealing with a once-in-a-lifetime crisis a little smoother.
“For our organization, it’s about our leadership up and down the organization,” Guzman says. “We have a staff that can think on their own and stand on their own, and we’re seeing how that really matters in this situation, which came out of nowhere.”
When the pandemic took hold, Guzman immediately began rearranging work life: He ordered the staff to telecommute. In-person meetings transferred to Zoom. For staff members that still need to go to the office, they’re now allowed in once a week and only one at a time.
If any employee has reported to have the flu or flu-like symptoms, the employee is quarantined, and their workstation is cordoned off. A company is called in to perform a full sanitization.
It’s been a work in progress. “In times like these, if there were already cracks in the system, you start seeing breaks.”
On the fleet side, staff technicians are now split evenly into a morning and evening shift. Meal breaks are staggered to only allow two technicians in the lunchroom at a time. They’re required to keep at least 15 feet apart.
Social distancing protocols include applying footprint decals to the floor to show the required gap from a service writer, for instance.
Regarding the fleet, the city parks have closed, so the vehicles that service them sit idle. Guzman’s team had been sanitizing loaner vehicles but felt it prudent to suspend the loaner fleet entirely.
The workload for garbage and sanitation trucks continues unabated. For repair work, technicians in latex gloves manually sanitize them before they enter the shop. If the job requires two technicians, they’ll each put on a mask. When the repair work is finished, the vehicles are sanitized again.
Due to the nature of transporting patients, servicing Fire & Rescue fleet vehicles requires technicians to don full plastic suits. If a patient or medic who rode in a truck tests positive for COVID-19, or even if extra precaution is warranted, the department will send the truck to a contracted specialist cleaning company.
In deference to the Boy Scout motto “Be Prepared,” the fleet management department likes to keep vehicle parts in stock. When parts are needed, the work order system had luckily already been automated.
However, Guzman says a couple of parts suppliers have shut down, which has been frustrating, but correctable. “Hey, we'll hunt and peck for those parts elsewhere,” he says. “We'll source them from Amazon or eBay.”
To Guzman’s point on individual leadership, the staff has stepped up in various ways.
The department had bought an oversupply of N95 masks pre-pandemic. Guzman gave the city’s fire department about 700 of those masks when it ran low. As well, the Fleet Services Department has been involved in a food drive initiated by the police athlete league.
The supervisors chipped in and recently bought lunch for the department. “The woman who owns the restaurant was only doing takeout,” he says. “She was so happy to get orders for 40 lunches.”
The lack of in-person communication has been hard. “I have reached out personally to every single one of my employees to see how they're doing,” Guzman says.
That includes one staffer with a three-month-old baby. Guzman can relate — he’s on paternity leave right now with a one-month-old himself. Guzman sent the associate much-appreciated extra baby supplies.
The cracks in the system aren’t as prevalent now. “It was rough two weeks ago, but it’s gotten a little easier; everyone knows now what’s going on,” he says.
That said, Guzman realizes the situation will change again as individuals and businesses adjust to Florida’s recent official stay-at-home order. “It's a long battle, and it’s far from over,” he says. “I just have to keep talking to the team to say ‘Hey, we're in this together and we're going to get through it.’”