Inspection is Still King

Columns - Tech Talk

September 5, 2019

Our 18-year old female cat went missing recently. Everyone in the house began a massive search for the cat except me. I had a lot to do and I knew that if she did not want to be found, she would not be found. The question came an hour later, “What if she died?” “Then we will find her tomorrow much easier than today,” I replied. There are times I would like to take that same attitude to a really difficult rodent job, but I really enjoy finding and eliminating these pests.

What happens when the pest technician has done their best to eliminate a rodent population from your client’s property and is now frustrated and stymied? That is when the rodent experts are called in for a review. Now, I am not claiming that I am an expert. I hand that title off to someone like Bobby Corrigan, or in our own company, Don Foster. However, I am good enough to know one trick, and I take full advantage of it. The detailed, all encompassing, no-holds-barred inspection is still king in rodent work.

I usually come into the situation after there has been a fair amount of work done. I often go in alone, but it is hard to train the technician to do a good inspection if they cannot be there with me, so I have a back-up plan. As soon as I meet the technician, I ask him or her to refrain from sharing their perspective on the problem with me until after I finish my inspection. I only want facts and answers to my questions while I do the inspection. I need to draw my own conclusions based on the inspection.

My inspection consists of two parts — a review of the paperwork associated with the account, and an actual physical inspection of the location.

DOCUMENTATION DEEP DIVE. What to do first — the documentation review or the hands-and-knees inspection? That depends on where your strengths lie. I start in the data because I am an auditor at heart. I look at data to spot trends and indicators (or clues) that tell me where to look in the physical inspection. What data is most helpful? The customer sighting log is my first stop. It tells me where the client has seen the activity, but usually only reflects a fraction of the actual sightings by the people in the facility. The site map or location list of where the traps or bait stations have been placed is vital to knowing where we have been using corrective measures. Trend reports are helpful, but most small accounts don’t actively leverage them or have them readily available, so I just work up my own trends from the service data. The service report our team leaves with the customer tells me where they have seen activity; trapped or baited; what stations had activity; what type of traps or lures are working; the sanitation, structural and environmental conditions and history of the facility; as well as many other things. Every piece of data is a clue to the rodent mystery being solved.

Today, we have many additional pieces of data to review if we are using remote monitoring systems and cameras. While these items or services can be pricey, the data they provide can be of tremendous value. We have used trail cameras for several years to determine the movement of rodents in an area to either confirm or rule out that area for trapping. We found that sometimes we were not dealing with the pest we originally thought, resulting in a change of strategy to resolve the issue. Making the correct identification of the pest using the cameras can be one of their major advantages.

With so many remote monitoring systems on the market or being tested today, there is a treasure trove of new information soon to come or available now. We can find out much about the area of activity and the quantity of rodents captured or missed. As the sensors and cameras merge into the same systems, we will be able to determine where they are coming from and where they are going. We will be able to know the species. We will be able to determine if there are males, females, adults or juveniles in the population. However, as with devices that cannot monitor remotely, the data will still be dependent on correct placement of that device, which relies on a good physical inspection.

Physical Inspection. Why do I say physical inspection instead of just inspection? Because now I am putting my eyes and hands on everything I can possibly find that will tell me where the rodents live and eat. You have to get dirty. You will need personal protective equipment both to protect you against bacterial exposure and hazards of the building. And, even while I am on my hands and knees looking and checking, I am still searching for more data.

As you move through the facility, make conversation with all the employees onsite. They will naturally share more information/data to add to what you have in the documentation records you reviewed. Take notes on their reports of sightings and catches during your physical inspection. Take notes of your own findings with pictures as well (unless you are prohibited). In some situations, the client may wave their “no photo” rules for this situation.

Here are some common questions you must answer during the inspection, but you will find more questions based on the facility type you are inspecting:

  • Is the activity inside, outside or both?
  • Is there travel potential between outside and inside?
  • Where are droppings found?
  • What species do the droppings indicate are present? (You may have more than one species.)
  • Where is nesting occurring?
  • Where is feeding occurring?
  • What is the most logical travel route between the two?
  • Where is sebum (rub markings) found?
  • Is there an area that no one has inspected because it is just too difficult to get to?

In many cases, the last question is the key. Rodents want to nest where there is very little activity and almost no chance of them being disturbed or found. You need to access the most remote areas of the facility, in between construction elements, and under or above the building, if you are going to solve the issue. This may mean crawling into access tunnels or getting above a very high suspended ceiling. Until you find the most remote hiding spots and potential rodent travel routes, you will not be able to eliminate these pests.

Finally, pull together the data and notes from your physical inspection, comparing it to what you found in your documentation review and what the technician previously noted or shared with you. This cross-analysis may be the key that will give you the answer your client and teammates need to resolve the activity. Finish it with a written summary. What did you find and what do you recommend as corrective actions to alleviate the problem?

Follow-up inspections are also a must. They allow you to adjust your assessment and recommendations as the rodents adjust to your corrective actions (which they will do). Rodents are driven to survive, and we must inspect and work hard to stay ahead of them.

So, what about our cat? She sneaked out of a laundry room storage cabinet (where no one even thought to look) late the same night.

The author is an Associate Certified Entomologist and director of technical services at Gregory Pest Solutions, Greenville, S.C.


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