In Somerville, Massachusetts, the war on rats could finally be over.
Much of the credit goes to the Rodent Action Team (RAT), a group of city workers, data analysts, and public health experts devoted to interpreting rat-related data and devising solutions for where to attack next.
Before RAT swooped in, the city’s budding triumph was preceded by a story of despair.
As Next City reports, Somerville received an average of two rat-related calls per day in 2012. In the summer of that year and later in 2013, complaints from city residents were more than double what they were in 2010. Rats were making a home in Somerville, much to residents’ discontent.
The city isn’t alone in dealing with rats — New York City rats are as invincible as they are innumerable. But the relative influx of rodents couldn’t be ignored.
“Cities across the northeast are reporting the same trend: more rats,” said Somerville mayor Joe Curtatone in late 2013. “This shift in conditions requires more aggressive approaches to rodent control.”
Somerville also tapped the skills of SomerStat, a five-person data analysis department that works with RAT to take raw data on rat sightings and make sense of the noise.
Whenever a rat sighting occurred, people were encouraged to call a 311 hotline. The city then used the proportion of rat-related calls to non-rat-related calls to locate the hot spots and ramp up enforcement in those areas.
RAT mapped out the hot spots and discovered that they tended to be near food sources. Cut off the food sources, cut off the rats.
Somerville attacked the problem on multiple fronts: city funding for in-home rodent control, standardised trash bins, uniform dumpster inspection, and non-lethal treatments to reduce rodent fertility.
The initiatives have led to sizable reductions in rat populations. This year, there have been 24 reported sightings. By this time last year, the total had already reached 103.
Somerville now receives just a third of 311 calls compared to last year.
In New York City, rat reduction programs have seen success for the last several years. The comprehensive pilot program used in Manhattan will soon expand to all five boroughs.
Perhaps as a testament to the city’s commitment to getting the subway-dwelling rodents out of the picture, the initial budget of $US400,000 was increased to $US2.9 million, with room on staff for sanitation experts, exterminators, and rodent biologists.
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