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Mitigating Pests After Natural Disasters

By Hope Bowman, Technical Specialist, Western Pest Services

When floods, hurricanes, fires, and other natural disasters occur, the damage can make buildings more vulnerable to pest infestations. Openings left in and around the building give pests the perfect opportunity to enter and find food, shelter and water. And because of shared walls and floors, pest problems in apartment and condominium buildings can be difficult to pinpoint and control, allowing pests to spread quickly. If a major infestation occurs, pests can cause significant structural damage, pose a health risk, ruin your bottom line, and tarnish your reputation with tenants.

To help prevent pest issues during repair efforts, it is important for property managers, maintenance crews, residents, and pest management professionals to work together quickly. The first and fastest line of defense is to clean up spills, remove standing water, and make sure trash is placed in sealed garbage cans and removed frequently. If electricity has been gone for an extended period – two or more days – throw everything out of the refrigerator.

Creating an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program as part of your disaster plan that focuses on sanitation and other techniques for preventing pests will help reduce conditions that attract pests. Here are some strategies and signs to look out for to help ensure your building does not end up with a pest infestation during and after any recovery efforts. Gaps, holes, broken windows, and torn roofs are ideal entrances for rodents, squirrels, and raccoons. Work with a Pest Management Professional (PMP) and maintenance crews to seal all cracks and gaps larger than a fourth of an inch – pay close attention to areas around utility lines.

Rats can squeeze through holes the size of a quarter, and mice can squeeze through openings the size of a dime. Place boards on windows, replace and repair vents and window screens, and use tarps to cover open areas. Also, immediately have your PMP put bait stations around the open area to stop these pests in their tracks. Rodents reproduce rapidly and pose a health risk as they transmit diseases like Hantavirus, salmonella, and leptospirosis, so communication about sightings is crucial. Make sure to have staff and residents look for these signs of a possible rodent infestation:

Natural disasters can often leave pipes cracked and gives cockroaches and flies easy access into a building. Cockroaches can spread more than 30 types of bacteria and numerous disease-causing pathogens, while flies carry more than 100 types of diseases – dealing with these pests is imperative to the health of residents.

Cockroaches thrive in warm, damp and dark conditions. Aside from sealing cracked pipes, preventing food and residue from building up in drains can stop cockroaches from setting up residence in your apartment or condo building. Once clean-up has ended, be sure to watch out for droppings which can range from looking like small coffee grounds to pebbles of black pepper. They are nocturnal, so seeing one during the day often indicates overcrowding and a much larger infestation hiding out of sight.

Drain flies, specifically, are associated with slime on the interior of drains, cracks and crevices. Monitoring drains with glue boards to identify trouble spots is a great way for efficient remedial action. If your residents see multiple flies – more than two – they should report it immediately. Standing water after floods, in units, outside of a building and in the basement of a building can attract pests like cockroaches, flies and mosquitoes. Immediately cleaning up standing water or small puddles is vital. Dehumidifiers and pumps are the quickest response, followed by contacting a PMP and using flood insurance to address other possible issues.

Mosquitoes can reproduce at an alarming rate, so get employees and residents to help in cleaning water spots to prevent an infestation. In addition, if moisture is not removed, buildings are at a greater risk for termites and wood destroying beetles, which can be quite costly to repair.

Cleaning up after the disaster is vital to keeping pests from making your property their new home. Ongoing resident cooperation is also essential to pest management in multifamily buildings.

Share these tips with residents to help with maintaining a clean space and preventing possible pest issues:

By implementing an Integrated Pest Management program, educating your staff and residents about pests, including signs of an infestation and best practices for prevention, as well as working with a PMP, you’ll make your building a less than ideal space for pest infestations before, during, and after a disaster.

Hope Bowman is a Technical Specialist and Board-Certified Entomologist with Western Pest Services, a New Jersey-based pest management company serving businesses and homeowners in major Northeastern markets.