Smart traps and feral cats: Cities amp up their pest control
Innovative pest control measures are bringing new strategies, like smart tech and community engagement, into the fight against infestations.
There’s one problem that’s as old as cities themselves: pests.
Rats, bugs, and other unwanted critters have been plaguing communities as long as communities have existed. And people have been trying to deal with them for practically as long — early pest control measures date back to 2500 B.C. when $ Ancient Sumerians used sulfur to kill insects$ .
Unfortunately, the pest problem persists today for most localities. Fortunately, the methods for managing them have become far more sophisticated.
Cities and counties are tapping into modern technologies, revisiting natural tactics, and activating additional resources to introduce innovative new pest control strategies.
In doing so, they’re not only making progress in the fight against rodents, bed bugs, and other infesting insects, they’re laying the groundwork for other communities to learn from and copy their approach.
The Problem with Pests
Communities large and small have seen an uptick in pests in recent years. The pandemic is a major culprit — when restaurants shut down, rats moved to where the food was, making themselves more comfortable (and more visible) around people’s homes. Empty buildings and decreased cleaning staff in institutions like colleges, hospitals, and hotels have made it easier for rodents and insects like bed bugs and mites to breed.
At the same time, some of the more “traditional” means of dealing with pests are getting a second look.
Rat poison has long been controversial, as it contaminates local ecosystems and kills other animals, from rat-eating birds like bald eagles, to pets. It even can pose a threat to people, including an $ estimated 10,000 children per year$ who are exposed to the toxin.
Beyond the issues with poison, pest control is often a reactionary practice — a game of whack-a-mole where the city can respond to bugs and rodent sightings, but has trouble getting to the root of the problem.
A number of localities are looking to change this. New smart technologies are making it easier to gather data and identify holistic pest trends, making predictive management plans more feasible. Other cities are experimenting with natural and scientific treatments, employing innovative techniques like birth control, beneficial insects, and a fleet of cats to control to keep unwanted bugs and rodents at bay.
Smart tech takes on rats and bugs
In Massachusetts, which $ limits the use of rodenticide$ , Cambridge and Somerville are $ piloting IoT-connected devices that trap and kill rats via electric shoc$ k. (By killing the animals instantly sans-poison, the traps protect predators from ingesting toxins.)
The rodent bins are placed in locations where residents have identified the biggest rat issues, and the smart technology $ emails the local councils$ with data on how many rats are trapped and killed, and where.
The pilot is a valuable step in the fight against rats, but it’s not the only solution, $ says vice mayor Alanna Mallon$ :
“We know that we have been doing all that we can to mitigate the rat problem here. But we are needing to use all the tools that are available in our toolbox, and this is just one more tool that we can consider.”
Part of the pilot’s findings will be to see whether the bins trap other animals such as squirrels.
Beyond internet-connected technology, other cities are using tools like $ drones to assess and spray mosquito breeding grounds$ , decreasing the risk of diseases like zika, dengue, and chikungunya.
Natural solutions to pest control
While some cities go high tech, others are turning to natural predators. Cats and dogs often get the nod — cities like $ Washington, D.C.$ and $ Chicago$ have employed feral cats to sniff out and catch rodents. $ New York City employs a beloved pair of bedbug sniffing dogs$ .
In Ontario, the Township of Centre Wellington, is calling on a different animal to take down pests: $ nematodes$ . The tiny roundworms get poured in water and flushed into termite nests, infecting the destructive bugs and killing them.
To identify where to release the nematodes, the city conducted a study on termite activity, identifying zones around active infestations. The estimated treatment cost is $ $80,000 per year$ , and the selected vendor is expected to provide ongoing data and termite control information to the community.
Public-private partnerships tackle bed bugs
Even with technology or natural predators, it can be tough for a city or county to knock out an infestation solo.
As we’ve seen $ across many aspects of local government$ , public-private partnerships can be a powerful alliance in the fight against unwanted bugs and rodents. $ In Philadelphia, PA, that fight took on bedbugs$ — and won.
The Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) partnered with $ Allergy Technologies$ to combat bedbug infestations in the city’s affordable housing units using proactive preventative measures.
The Allergy Technologies Affordable Housing Control (ATAHC … pronounced “attack”) program began as a pilot. A $ 460-unit PHA building was inspected room-by-room, and underwent an in-depth process$ involving:
- Getting buy-in
- Dividing up the work
- Conducting thorough inspections
- Remediating bed bugs
- Adding preventative measures across all units, including Allergy Technologies’ bedbug-preventing mattress liners
- Monitoring and recruiting residents to report reoccurrence
The pilot worked; after 2 years, $ the city saw a 97% reduction in bedbug reintroductions, and a 40% cut in preventative service needs$ . Philadelphia has now expanded the program to a five-year $ $15 million effort to stomp out bedbug infestations across 6,000 units across the city$ .
Community-driven pest management
One of the smartest ways to combat pests in a community is to mobilize residents against them.
In Philadelphia’s ATAHC pilot, building resident participation was critical to the program’s success, according to $ Joseph Latino, President, Allergy Technologies$ :
“While core principles of the ATAHC Program include early detection and intervention, a key component of the program’s success comes from working closely with property management, staff and residents — all of whom have been incredibly supportive. The ‘magic’ occurs when all of these stakeholders come together and work toward a solution.”
Not only do these tools provide info on dealing with unwanted critters, some also let residents report pests’ locations to local officials, using interactive maps and direct notifications to responsible council members.
By tapping into citizens, the regional council can cover more ground in the fight against pests, $ says Hawke’s Bay Acting Team Leader Biosecurity/Biodiversity Alice McNatty$ :
“The Regional Council oversees pest management in Hawke’s Bay, but we always need help from our community as we can’t do all the work ourselves. We can help people to act with the right tools and knowledge, which is what the Pest Hub is all about.”
Not only is it mobilizing its citizens against unwanted pests, Hawke’s Bay has found a way to tackle the pest problem by taking a cue from another council’s success. Their online Pest Hub was adapted from a similar one created by Northland Regional Council, which $ won first prize at ALGIM (Association of Local Government Information Management)$ .
Northland’s Pest Hub was expanded and became a shared $ database for a number of regional councils and other organizations$ — likes Hawke’s Bay.
It’s an important reminder that local governments don’t have to reinvent the wheel when solving the problem of pests.
After all, residents don’t care if you came up with the method for eliminating rats and bugs; they just want an approach that works.