Pillars of Success Year One

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The first year of the ATAHC Program involved five collaborative steps.

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June 7, 2021

1. Getting Buy-in

Being a facility-wide effort, all parties had to be on board. To build trust and collaboration, multiple training sessions were held for property management staff and residents. Led by an expert from Cornell University’s Northeastern Integrated Pest Management Center, the sessions demystified the stigma of bed bugs; alleviated eviction concerns; outlined individuals’ roles in the program; and taught basic bed bug detection and what to expect from ATAHC. Training materials were translated into multiple languages, and volunteer residents served as in-person translators during meetings, where refreshments were provided.

Meetings with Resident Council members were held throughout the year and newsletters highlighting program updates and communicating reminders were distributed to build resident support and enthusiasm. Management was trained on how to engage early with new residents who may introduce bed bugs during move-in.

A basic tenet of the ATAHC Program is building a culture of trust through respectful interaction with residents. Residential engagement, coupled with regular communication between the housing staff, management and pest control service personnel fosters early reporting and rapid intervention, ultimately allowing for localized treatments of re-introductions rather than more disruptive and expensive unit-wide remediation. The old adage, “treat the snowball rather than the avalanche” is particularly relevant in this case.

2. Dividing up the Work

Like many affordable and multi-unit housing complexes, this facility was large, comprised of an apartment tower surrounded by rows of townhouses. To make bed bug work more manageable and easier to track, the 470 units were divided into four color-coded quadrants. All work was completed in the first quadrant before moving to the second, and so on.

A detailed database helped Corbett Exterminating track progress. The company had to adjust some of its reporting practices to ensure documentation was consistent from unit-to-unit while adhering to the program’s strict timeframes for follow-up activities. “Everything was pretty regulated (from a timing standpoint), but it wasn’t a problem; you just had to schedule it properly,” explained Cerbini.

Being methodical is key to ATAHC’s success. “The organizational level and attention to detail is a great deal higher than with reaction-based bed bug control,” said Dr. Jim Ballard, the bed bug consultant who audited ATAHC Program data. This dedication to detail allows for more efficient use of labor and streamlined deployment, resulting in significant cost-savings for the program.

3. Conducting Community-Wide Inspections

Each unit underwent canine inspection for bed bugs by Key K9, an independent bed bug detection company based in Unionville, PA. Corbett Exterminating technicians then visually inspected the apartments where dogs alerted, to both confirm bed bug presence and grade infestations by their level of severity. Grading was performed throughout the course of the program to determine whether to remediate unit-wide (for more severe infestations) or perform localized treatments (for more limited bed bug introductions).

4. Remediating Units with Bed Bugs

Initially, every unit that had bed bugs (confirmed through PMP inspection) underwent heat remediation with residual chemical products applied per label as needed. (Heat is Corbett Exterminating’s preferred method of bed bud control; chemical-only treatment may be considered in lieu of heat in future projects.) Steaming and vacuuming (extraction) of bed bugs was performed as needed. The use of clothes dryers and portable heat enclosures were used to eliminate bed bugs from personal items and large furniture pieces.

5. Installing Preventive Measures in All Units

All units, regardless of remediation efforts required, were then outfitted with prevention measures, with the exception of 13 units where property management continued to work with residents to gain access.

Desiccant silica gel dust was applied to wall voids. ActiveGuard liners were installed on all box springs and inverted on mattresses if box springs were absent. (In some cases, to salvage the mattress, liners were used in conjunction with encasements.) These products were chosen for their years-long residual activity and ability to kill any introduced bed bugs.

In addition, passive monitors were installed under the legs of beds, sofas or recliners. “Wherever people sleep, they got the interceptors,” Ballard said. In common areas, a limited number of active monitors with lures were installed.