New York City is tackling its vermin population by mapping rat inspections across the city and posting the results online. By tracking the rat population, the Department of Health can pinpoint the worst affected areas, then direct a combination of resident groups and government departments to clean up homes, streets and parks. The effort reduced the rat population by up to 60% in some areas. Following these results, City Hall invested $32 million in a city-wide rat reduction plan in July 2017.
Results & Impact
Through tracking and mapping rat inspections from 2007 onward, the New York City Department of Health identified 45 rat reservoirs (areas with a high rat population) in 2015. Eleven of these have seen a reduction in rat activity ranging from 30% to 60%. The $32 million Rat Reduction Plan announced in July 2017 marks a significant increase in investment from 2015, when the city only allocated $2.9 million for rat elimination. New York aims to reduce the percentage of rat-affected properties in the targeted areas by 30% to 70%.
The City of New York, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, New York City Department of Sanitation, New York City Housing Authority, Bigbelly
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) began to track rat inspections in the Bronx in 2007 and posted areas of rat activity on a public access portal. This tracking effort has since expanded to cover the whole of Manhattan and neighbourhoods in each of the five boroughs. This allowed the number of rat inspections to increase dramatically, building a more accurate picture of rat populations than the previous complaint-based system. The DOHMH is now able to target resources to areas with the highest rat activity. It coordinates a response in key areas through engaging community activists and property owners, as well as cooperating with other government agencies to clean up neighbourhoods. Residents and property owners are encouraged to deny rats their sources of food and shelter through better garbage management and the replacement of earthen floors and crawl spaces with concrete. The new $32 million investment will fund more scheduled trash pickups, the cementing of basements and the replacement of mesh trash cans with steel cans and solar-powered compactors.
New York City, US
General public, city dwellers, low-income people
Cost & Value
The program cost $611,000 prior to 2015, when funding increased by $2.9 million. A $32 million investment was announced in July 2017, which will pay for measures involving a number of departments in New York City.
Running since 2007
Officials cite the size of New York City and the complexity of its government as obstacles to implementing cross-agency efforts to tackle the rat population. The difficulty of the task itself makes a long-term solution and commitment to realistic goals necessary: rats thrive in urban environments, and progress can be slow. The best technologies for tackling rats and collecting data are often the most expensive. Through its targeting work, the DOHMH has been able to use resources effectively and coordinate agencies across government, building the case for more investment.
Several cities in the US are currently engaged in rat abatement programs. Washington, D.C is also installing rodent-proof commercial waste compactors and smart bins, which alert public agencies when they are full and need to be collected.
New York City has reduced rat populations by up to 60% in certain areas by using data mapping to better target the root causes of vermin infestation.
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) collects the results from inspections and maps them onto an interactive online portal. Through releasing this data, the DOHMH encourages residents to respond to problems in their community themselves and track improvements over time. The data also allows the DOHMH to direct its response to the areas with the highest need. By building a picture of those areas worst affected by rats, the DOHMH has been able to identify the root causes of rat activity and test a number of responses.
“This initiative led to a huge increase in the number of inspections we were doing on an annual basis,” said Caroline Bragdon, Director of Neighbourhood Interventions for the Pest Control Services Program at the DOHMH. “It allowed us to be much more proactive in identifying rat activity and responding more rapidly than we had ever been before.”
The inspections are displayed on a specially built Rat Information Portal online to allow residents and local property owners to visualise the level of rat activity in their area. “We also wanted neighbourhood leaders and community advocates to know the inspection status of entire neighbourhoods so that they could organise around this issue,” said Bragdon.
Previously, the DOHMH mainly responded to complaint calls, which led to inaccuracies in reporting. As Bragdon pointed out: “Certain people are more likely to complain than others, so you end up returning all the time to the areas that people complain, and sometimes missing areas where rat infestation was a problem.”
The scheme has grown from a pilot in the Bronx to cover neighbourhoods in all of the city’s five boroughs. It started in 2007 as a small project called “rat indexing,” which assessed the number of properties in one neighbourhood that had rats and notified owners of the need to take action.
Once it identifies problem areas, the DOHMH encourages landlords and community groups to make changes in their neighbourhoods in order to remove the conditions which allow rat populations to thrive. Areas with a high population density can offer rats a ready food source through the waste they generate, and earthen floors and crawl space provide ideal nesting areas.
In 2015, the DOHMH identified the 45 worst affected areas with inspection data. These “rat reservoirs” have since received the most attention from the city’s agencies. Of these, 11 have seen 30-60% reductions in rat activity, meaning that hundreds of properties are now rat-free.
The more accurate tracking of the rat population has led to a steady increase in funding over the years from the Government of New York. In 2015, following the rat reservoir classification, the government increased funding by $2.9 million. In July this year, a $32 million multi-agency rat eradication plan was announced. Bragdon described it as “an unprecedented investment in rat mitigation.”
The DOHMH will continue tracking rat levels to measure its effectiveness, in hopes of reaching a 30-70% reduction in rat populations. The new program will see multiple government agencies coordinate and share data, building on earlier efforts made by the agencies to cooperate. The DOHMH provides training to other agencies, such as the Department of Sanitation (DSNY), in best rat management practices. This cooperation goes hand-in-hand with the rat indexing data collection efforts.
Over the next few years, city authorities plan to wage a multi-pronged assault on conditions conducive to rats. Three areas with the highest levels of rat infestation are being targeted: the Grand Concourse area, Chinatown/East Village/Lower East Side and Bushwick/Bedford-Stuyvesant. The Department of Sanitation will increase the number of trash pickups in targeted areas, the New York City Housing Authority is being given $16.3 million to replace earthen floors with concrete in its properties, and the DOHMH is purchasing new waste containers.
The city plans to replace all the remaining wire waste baskets in the reservoir zones with 1,676 steel cans. The DOHMH will also install 157 Bigbelly Solar compactors, whose hopper-style opening keeps waste contained. The compactors are also able to track their fullness levels, allowing city authorities to tailor their collection schedules, and prevent waste building up next to full trash cans. This purchase follows an earlier trial of the Bigbelly cans in Thomas Paine Park, where the DOHMH was able to show that rat-resistant cans could decrease numbers without the need to exterminate.