They say that necessity is the mother of all invention, and for a duo of pest management professionals from American Pest Management (APM), Manhattan, Kansas, that meant finding a way to meet the current bed bug resurgence head-on with new inspection and treatment programs to proactively handle the increasing problem in their community. So far, the programs are receiving rave reviews.
APM's Bed Bug Community Outreach Program
After calls related to bed bugs sky rocketed, American Pest Management, Manhattan, Kan., saw a need to reach out and help educate their community about the increasing problem. So, in November 2010 the company introduced its Community Outreach Program.
"We felt that we needed to create bed bug awareness to help the community protect itself and help curb the spread from one place to another," says Travis Aggson, vice president, APM.
Part lecture, part hands-on demonstration, the Outreach Program covers bed bug history, biology, health impacts and treatment strategies, along with practical tips about how attendees can protect themselves on vacation, or when buying used furniture.
"We also bring in a mock hotel room including a twin bed, mattress, box spring, headboard, foot board, picture frame, and sometimes stuffed animals, a back pack or a clothes hanger, and show people how to inspect — where they need to look and where are the hot spots — and explain what they need to do if they find bed bugs," says Joey Hoke, general pest control supervisor, APM.
APM also provides attendees with hand-outs to reinforce the information covered in the program, or for them to share with others who did not attend.
Initially, APM invited the company's target audience, mainly property and hotel managers, and one representative from each business typically attended. The message was so well received, however, that the managers began to request meetings for other office personnel and for their property tenants.
Now meetings are attended by anywhere from 5 to 250 people and may be held on-site in APM's training room, or off-site at the group's choice of locations. Attendees have included everyone from Realtors, property owners, managers and tenants to EMTs and other first responders. Meetings for tenants at multi-unit properties have included pot luck dinners and BBQs. One appreciative tenant even penned a bed bug song on his banjo.
The positive impact of APM's Community Outreach Program has already reached beyond its attendees. After overhearing other hotel guests complaining to management about bed bugs in their room, one program graduate was able to step in and help her friends. "She told us how she used the skills we taught in class to inspect five hotel rooms for her friends," Aggson said.
Programs Fill Hole. Both of APM's new programs have their roots in the Bed Bug Forum sponsored by the National Pest Management Association earlier this year in Denver. After attending the conference in January, Joey Hoke, general pest control supervisor, APM, was inspired by the ideas and information presented there, but noted a hole in current approaches.
"There was so much great information about how to treat bed bugs once a client has an infestation," Hoke said. "But there was little information about how we can be proactive and prevent bed bugs from becoming a problem."
So Hoke and Travis Aggson, vice president, APM, began to brainstorm and together developed their first initiative — the Bed Bug Certification Inspection Program.
"Initially, we created the bed bug program in the same vein as our termite inspection program," Aggson said.
Under the new program, a member of the APM Bed Bug Team will inspect units as they become vacant. If a unit is absent of bed bugs, the manager will receive a certificate and can then provide an apartment or home that is guaranteed free of bed bugs at the time of move-in. If bed bugs are found, the technician will perform a curative treatment.
To test the concept, Aggson and Hoke held several bed bug summits with area property managers, hotel managers and university officials. Initial reaction was positive and by mid-March, they announced the first bed bug certified property in Manhattan, Kan.
In addition to certification, the program also provides clients with a sense of protection.
"Property managers have started adding bed bug addendums to their leases," Aggson said. "Certification gives them not only the documentation that units are absent of bed bugs at time of move-in, but also provides them with a timeline should an infestation occur in the future. A timeline can be helpful if it becomes necessary to establish who is responsible for paying for a treatment in the future."
For renters, the certification provides peace of mind that there will be no unwelcome surprises after move-in day.
Currently, three property managers who each oversee 20 to 300 apartment units or single-family homes are enrolled in the program. When tenants move out, APM will come in, inspect and certify, or inspect and treat each unit.
"Reaction to the Certification Program has been great so far, but some property managers want us to take the program even further," Aggson said. "They want us to prevent bed bug infestations. Since there is no way to really prevent them from coming in, we decided to focus on proactively preventing the spread of bed bugs."
So while they began to implement the Bed Bug Inspection Certification Program, Aggson and Hoke began to work on a preventive protocol.
"We continued to brainstorm internally and contacted BASF to discuss preventative treatment options," Aggson said. "They helped us identify several treatments that bed bugs aren't resistant to that have residual effects for six to 12 months."
Working with BASF, APM began testing the proactive protocol at a local hotel that was experiencing ongoing bed bug problems.
"In the first four months of treatment, we have controlled the spread, and have had no new signs of bed bugs, and no complaints of other problem pests, either," Aggson said.
As a result, APM recently introduced the company's new Bed Bug Proactive Treatment Program.
"The Proactive Program involves a partnership between the pest management professional, property manager and occupants or tenants," said Aggson. "When we start a program we ask the property manager to arrange a potluck dinner, or provide some kind of refreshment with us as 'the entertainment.'" APM uses these meetings to educate attendees about bed bugs, their life cycle and what to do in case of an infestation.
Once the Proactive Program is underway, technicians will systematically visit every unit and following the first step of APM's bed bug protocol, inspect and treat every room as if there are bed bugs present. Proactive treatment applications are made in common harborage sites concentrating in bedrooms, wall voids and closets. Monitors are also set. Follow-up inspections and treatments are conducted every six months.
"Following the NPMA protocol, if you have bed bugs in a hotel room, you need to inspect and/or treat the infested unit and the adjacent units," Hoke said. "Because we do inspections and proactive treatments twice a year, if bed bugs are found, we only have to treat the infested unit because the adjacent units will have been treated already. Treatment becomes a much less-invasive process."
In addition to giving property managers a proactive option that's less invasive and more discreet, the Proactive Treatment Program can also help customers keep treatment costs under control.
Two customers currently enrolled in the Proactive Treatment Program had seen curative treatment costs for their multi-unit properties skyrocket past $20,000 in 2010, and beyond in 2011.
"These managers ran through their risk-analysis and determined that for some of their properties it made better financial sense to treat proactively than wait to treat until after there is another problem," said Aggson. "It's almost a case-by-case decision."
As another benefit to customers, APM is revamping the company's Web site (www.americanpestonline.com) to include a page listing all certification and proactive program partners. Once launched, the page will allow anyone searching for apartments in the Manhattan or Kansas City area to find properties that are using a proactive approach to bed bug inspection and treatment.
"With all the college and military housing in the area we have a high turnover rate," said Aggson. "Now anyone looking for an apartment in the area managed by one of our partners will know they can feel confident that every possible step is being taken to make sure they don't have a bed bug problem in their new home."
American Pest Management's new programs may have been developed out of a necessity to provide proactive options for customers in the fight against bed bugs, but they have also helped boost the company's bottom line. Revenue for bed bug work in 2011 is projected to triple 2010 totals.
"This process has taught us to use our knowledge and be flexible. The protocols are changing as we learn more and it's an ever-changing exercise as we continue to provide service effectively and efficiently," said Aggson.
The author is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee, Wis. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.