Three industry professionals shared advice and insights from some of their most challenging cases in the field.
In the past decade, “don’t let the bed bugs bite” has gone from a children’s bedtime rhyme to a legitimate concern for many property owners and residents. As a result, the pest control industry has seen an influx of reported cases not only in private residences, but also in commercial properties. Though, as a whole, the industry has adopted and adapted many successful practices to effectively treat this relatively new pandemic, the challenges of working beyond a private single-family residence can be daunting to even the most experienced professional.
At the 2013 Global Bed Bug Summit in Denver, Colo., three pest management professionals — Judy Black, vice president of technical services for Steritech; Eric Braun, bed bug technical services manager for Rentokil; and Billy Tesh, president of Pest Management Systems Incorporated (known as PMi) — shared advice and insights from some of their most challenging cases in the field. Though their cases focused on commercial properties and multi-family residences, the challenges and best practices shared can be applied to all types of bed bug accounts.
From the variety of case studies that Black, Braun and Tesh presented during their panel, four main challenges emerged: determining the correct treatment; overcoming treatment problems; ensuring quality inspections; and managing clients. For each challenge, however, the panel also shared many strategies for success.
Challenge: Correct Treatments.
Not all bed bug cases are created equal, and the best treatments for one case may be unacceptable for another. When treating for bed bugs, the two most common treatments are a conventional chemical treatment and a heat treatment. “It may be that in residential work...using an IGR (insect growth regulator) where you’ve got to rely on that nymph having a blood meal for impact, [is OK]. In a hotel, that may not be OK. Your client may not be OK with their guest having to be fed on for a product to work,” said Black. Other factors to consider when choosing a treatment, added Braun, are the risk level of pesticide exposure to people and their pets, the allotted treatment time frame and the building structure.
In order to choose a treatment, it’s important to “identify the client’s needs and define their issues,” explained Tesh. In order to do this, a thorough inspection always should be performed, when possible, before accepting the job.
“Our first step was about the property factors: How are we going to solve this problem and make it a success?” said Tesh. During the inspection, make note of the building layout, level of resources (such as available energy output) and interior design. Understanding where treatment problems may occur will help design a treatment to overcome these problems before they can have an impact.
When choosing the treatment, Black also emphasized the importance of understanding basic bed bug biology such as their life cycle and movement patterns. “You need to understand bed bug biology so that you fully comprehend how your treatment methods are impacting the bed bugs,” she said.
Challenge: Treatment Difficulties.
Even if you’ve chosen the best treatment for the job, your service technicians may face a multitude of challenges when attempting to implement that treatment. Three of the biggest treatment problems faced by Black, Braun and Tesh were clutter, architecture and interior design, and reintroduction of pests.
Both Braun and Tesh shared cases about how clutter severely impacts heat treatments. “The clutter restricts the air movements. It prevents the hot air from getting to where it needs to go and creates cold spots…It also prevents a thorough inspection to find harborage areas which would make it a lot easier to eliminate the infestation,” explained Braun.
The building structure and interior design also can cause unforeseen problems for both heat and chemical treatments. Concrete, for instance, will dissipate heat, while certain types of paneling may reduce the penetrative ability of the heat treatment. Working with numerous hotels, Black has faced many issues with interior design, ranging from wallpaper to headboards to the choice of wood used for furniture. She notes knotted woods, ornate or oversized headboards and textured wallpapers all make treatments difficult due to their numerous cracks and crevices, which are difficult to apply treatment to or behind.
Finally, explained Tesh, reintroduction occurs when new pests are introduced to an already treated area. “Most of the time it was used furniture (coming from another source), and sometimes it was just non-compliance,” he explained. In multi-residence buildings, for instance, when residents from an infested residence awaiting treatment enter a residence that has already received treatment, they risk re-spreading the infestation.
For clutter, Braun recommended a four-pronged approach when implementing a heat treatment: Arrange clutter to optimize airflow; increase the frequency of searching for cold spots; extend the hold time (the duration of time the heat is applied to the treatment area); and remove large objects and heat them in a separate facility or hot pod.
Tesh also advocated working with property managers to remove clutter left by non-compliant residents. “Residents were given a period of time to comply and when they didn’t we went in, bagged all the stuff up…and said, ‘You gotta deal with it,’ and we put it in one room,” he said.
Though very little can be done to change the building structure for a treatment, Tesh reiterated that understanding how to place heaters to optimize airflow patterns can help. One of the benefits of managing a multi-residence unit, said Tesh, is that “After you do a couple of units you start to see the characteristics of those units and you say ‘I know we’ve got to do it this way.’”
For many commercial properties or multi-unit residences, asking clients to change their interior design can be difficult; however, Black recommends talking with clients about the inherent risks of using those design choices. In many instances, her clients have remodeled based on her advice. For technicians, understanding that certain types of furniture or design elements may have extra hiding places for pests can help them target those areas during a treatment.
To manage reintroduction, both Black and Tesh highlighted the importance of customer awareness. In a case Black shared about a hotel infestation treated by her company, the infestation persisted despite numerous treatments because the source was a third-party linen provider that unknowingly brought more bed bugs into the hotel weekly on its linen carts. Once those carts were removed, her service technicians began seeing success for their treatments.
For multi-residence units, Tesh recommended educating the residents on basic bed bug biology so they could identify potential signs of bed bugs when visiting friends or buying used furniture. In order to minimize the risk of reintroduction within the units he was treating at one apartment complex, he also devised a plan in which all residents whose floors were being treated were required to change into scrubs. Their clothes were then treated in an industrial dryer so the residents did not reintroduce any pests when returning to their treated floors.
Challenge: Quality Inspections.
One way to identify bed bugs is with a K-9 inspection, but many clients doubt their effectiveness. When working with third-party contractors such as K-9 bed bug teams, it’s particularly important to monitor the provided services.
“We had a situation where we had a large number of (positive hits during a) particular inspection,” said Braun. “We didn’t realize we had an issue until the day after when the customer called us and told us that they were going to bring in a second dog team.” When the results from the second dog team didn’t match, it “put into question every inspection we provided with that contractor prior to that date,” explained Braun. When attempting to prove the contractor’s credibility, Braun also found the contractor’s training logs were incomplete and unprofessional.
When working with a third-party contractor, Braun suggests three different controls for K-9 teams. First, require any subcontractor to submit training logs that show proper training techniques and maintenance procedures. Second, a member of the pest management company should conduct periodic audits of the contractor, as well as send a representative to accompany inspections. Braun cautions this individual must be someone familiar with the K-9 inspection process and be someone who will not have a direct financial incentive for a bed-bug positive inspection result. Finally, when working with K-9 teams, it’s critical to realize that, eventually, an inspection may go bad, and it’s important the company representative on site has the authority to stop or reschedule the inspection if such problems arise.
Commercial and multi-residence clients can provide particular challenges due to various levels of control and cooperation needed by residents, staff, managers and building owners. Black and Tesh both explained one of the biggest red flags when choosing a job was whether other companies had been called in to treat the problem before. “What we also wanted to do was look and review all other attempts that were made at controlling or eliminating the bed bug population, and what we found was, sometimes those operators were doing everything they could, but there wasn’t the cooperation needed at all levels,” said Tesh. A sample of the types of challenges that occur when dealing with clients include: hesitance to use the best treatment option, noncompliance with treatment needs (such as removing clutter or vacating the premise) and lack of information sharing.
Solution. Based on the case studies shared by Black, Braun and Tesh, there’s no single best practice for handling difficult clients. All three panelists stressed the importance of educating the client on treatment options and their roles in the treatment procedure. Black noted clients may not be forthcoming with essential information. “Sometimes you have to keep asking the same question over and over, even if you feel like an idiot while you’re doing it. Because, on the fifth time, you get a different answer,” she said.
Tesh also emphasized training service technicians to provide friendly customer service. “One of the things that we ran them through before we started (a large-scale treatment) was a lesson on compassion, that these residents don’t want to be there, that they’re embarrassed in a lot of cases, and that we needed to show a lot of compassion,” he said.
Tesh also emphasized the importance of recognizing residents’ needs. During one particularly challenging case, for instance, he worked with the property managers to provide all residents who could not access their rooms due to treatments with free lunches and activities (provided by local community support groups).
Basic Best Practices.
Though Black, Braun and Tesh provided best practices for many specific challenges, they also noted many of these best practices could be implemented across the board to increase company quality and effectiveness.
- Troubleshoot — In all cases, when a treatment does not seem to be working, the first step should be to troubleshoot. This process includes “Talking to the technician about: did the client prep the way they were supposed to, did the technician do what they were supposed to; looking at service reports; talking to the technician about how much product they used, where did they put it; asking specific questions, just going through that troubleshooting process to determine if anything else was strange,” said Black.
- Tracking — Whether it is tracking to determine the most effective pest control procedures; tracking training in order to assure quality and identify weaknesses; or tracking treatments in order to log what operations have been performed, finding ways to record services allows for future evaluation and troubleshooting in the event of an incomplete treatment or future challenge, experts say.
Though their cases were highly diverse, Black, Braun and Tesh presented many overarching challenges and best practices when dealing with bed bug infestations. Many of these challenges, however, were not about the bed bugs themselves, but about learning to adapt, troubleshoot and develop creative solutions to the environment surrounding the infestation. At the end of the day, said Black, “We had to trust that we were doing the right things, using the right treatments, trust our protocol and ask: what is it that was outside the box?”
By following best practices, pest management professionals can effectively narrow in on the root cause or challenge of the infestation in order to effectively and efficiently deliver treatment.
The author is a PCT contributing writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.