An Unpacking Nightmare

Ready-to-deploy equipment simply does not exist!

Most agencies have someone who serves in a dark corner, behind a locked door. You know the guy or gal. We call them Santa's helper, the police elf, the supply hero, the mechanic, the electrician, the plumber, the supply person. What would we do without them? Not much.

I have a confession to make that most of you will identify with. I haven't previously appreciated the heavy lifting that comes between arrival of products and issuing them to the line officers. Most things you buy don't just leap out of a box ready to go. I just experienced a week that should provide a rather long-term reminder of the assembly process.

I thought with the last of my children reaching adulthood that "insert tab A into slot D2" and place the "push nut on the axle" were in my distant past. Oh, no! I now get the rare blessing of using my decades of assembly skills on the job.

At my agency, we just received 33 new Nikon digital cameras for patrol sergeants, training officers, and K-9 units. Let's see, that's 33 boxes with 66 cables, 33 sets of software, 33 manuals, 33 power supplies, 66 batteries ready to be charged, 33 Pelican brand rugged cases with uncut liners, 8 detachable flash units, 33 more boxes with lenses, 33 more boxes with UV Haze filters, 33 color calibration cards, and 33 users to train. Oh and lest I forget, 100 memory cards, in hard plastic anti-theft adult-proof packaging.

The purchasing and issue process for this small project went something like this.

  • Specify the product: locate an affordable product that improves current photo system for patrol officers.
  • Locate funding
  • Call for bid with purchasing
  • Bid evaluation
  • Bid Award
  • Purchase
  • Back order delays
  • Product pick up from warehouse
  • Product preparation
  • Product configuration
  • Training materials development
  • Schedule Training
  • Conduct Training
  • Issue equipment
  • Support users

The temptation in any project is to assume that when you buy supplies, gravity and other forces of nature combine the products to a completely assembled and ready-to-use condition. Not only do we routinely forget the intensity of the delivery process, but we also forget the labor associated with unpacking and pre-deployment preparation. The emphasis here is on that little-acknowledged process I'll call pre-issue product preparation.

Have you bought a memory stick lately? Who invented this packaging stuff? Harder than Kevlar, welded closed, bigger than a breadbox, to hold a postage stamp-sized memory stick. I've opened these in the past with band saws, jigsaws, tin snips, garden shears, and industrial scissors, I still haven't found the easiest way. The stuff is more rigid than granite, requiring the poor customer to cut three sides to get it open, or risk amputation when your finger slips as you place it inside the package to fetch your prize--a memory stick! Memory sticks must be the most desirable item on the market. If we could get illegal drugs packaged in the material, drug use would disappear immediately. No drug addict would bother. Withdrawal would be over before they ever got the drugs out of the package. When you open these packages, use a sharp knife. One slip cutting the packaging open, and you'll be close friends with the neighborhood prosthetics shop. Wouldn't you think you could buy memory sticks by a lot of 100, without the packaging?

After eight hours of serving as the resident box cutter samurai, I was having flashbacks of my high school job as a box boy in a local grocery. Finally, everything was unpacked and my team of three had everything pretty close to completely assembled. That's roughly 24 man-hours, three full days of work, just to get the parts out of the packaging, assembled and in the issued rugged kit.

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