by Andrew Taylor & Caroline Kirby
I remember a good friend of mine telling me that, in 5 to 10 years, I would look back at when I started in this industry and reminisce about the way it used to be. In some cases, this may be true. However, from a technological standpoint, I have to disagree. I do not miss the wireless and thermal printers that had special codes of blinking lights that only an IT guru could decipher, and I certainly do not miss spotty data connections when trying to sync.
When I look at the pest industry’s current technology, I am excited for the future. The current buzz in the pest industry is remote monitoring, and those who visited Baltimore for PestWorld this year were able to see this technology on full display.
One article is not enough to describe the multitude of remote monitoring devices that were on display. Luckily, Plunkett’s training coordinator, Caroline Kirby, spent the last year working with several different remote monitoring systems. She has summarized their features below:
DESIGN. There are a variety of monitoring systems out there and each has a slightly different design. Some systems focus on alerting when a rodent is caught in a snap trap and others fasten to a multi-catch trap. Some devices rely on physical components becoming dislodged when the snap trap triggers, and some complete a type of circuit when an object —presumably a mouse — physically touches it. Others rely on a change in momentum or an infrared beam of light to detect a triggered snap trap or movement in a multi-catch device.
The overarching theme in all systems is one of rodent detection, data collection and notification. Every system collects useful information that is transferred from a single sensor to a hub or gateway, and then to a technician’s device to alert them of a capture. Some systems use e-mail to notify technicians and clients of captures, others use text messages, and others rely on push notifications.
ADVANTAGES. Here is a look at some of the “pros” to this technology.
Investigation. The best thing about remote monitoring is that it allows technicians the opportunity to take a more proactive approach and spend more time investigating their account instead of checking empty traps. This means more time for actual pest control (i.e., locating rodent entry points, inspecting for cockroach harborages or performing supplemental fly treatments).
Making sure to communicate this added value to our clients as these systems are rolled out will be important. This new technology does not and should not replace a technician. Instead, it adds value to the service by allowing the technician more time to thoroughly inspect and solve ongoing issues.
Notifications. Immediate notifications allow technicians to get a jump start on an issue instead of learning about it during their next service. While there is a threat of being inundated with catch notifications if you have a particularly mousey account, the idea of knowing exactly when and where a rodent was caught in an account is a positive one. This can be especially helpful in food-processing facilities and other sensitive accounts.
With these new systems, every company must set their own policies regarding how soon a catch notification must be attended to and to whom the notifications may be sent. It is important to balance the forces that demand immediate responses with a proportionate response and a proportionate fee.
Peace of Mind. With a remote monitoring system, technicians can rest easy with the knowledge that they can check the status of their equipment within each of their accounts at any time. Remote monitoring systems alert the technician when a rodent is caught. They also record a “heartbeat” data point if no activity is detected. This “heartbeat” lets technicians, clients and auditors know that the system is still functional and will function properly if a rodent is caught. Additionally, some systems even show a map that designates triggered traps in red and non-triggered traps in green for those who want a more visual representation of their account.
Data. The ability to collect data is invaluable. Through remote monitoring systems, pest control professionals can collect and evaluate statistical data for each account in which they install a system. For example, many sensing systems feature a time stamp to indicate exactly when a rodent was caught. This time stamp allows technicians to ask better questions and gain more information. For example, if a rodent is caught at 11 p.m., technicians can ask their client which shipments arrived around that time and identify employees working at that time to interview them. This can help identify a vendor who is unknowingly shipping rodents in with their product or an employee who is propping the door open as part of their evening routine.
Other data collected can help to identify rodent hot spots, patterns or times of increased activity; prove that a service was performed; and much more.
OPPORTUNITIES. How can PCOs make best use of this technology?
Beyond the Trap. Sensing technology allows us to place traps more strategically around a warehouse rather than to the left and right of every door. Now, we can place traps in difficult-to-reach places where rodents might live undetected with traditional trap placements — such as above drop ceilings, in areas where we have to “gown-up” before entering and in difficult-to-access tunnels.
In some facilities with ample food, water and harborage presence, rodent traps can sometimes only monitor the space immediately around the trap. Most technicians have had, at one time or another, a forklift driver tell them she saw a mouse run between two pallets nowhere near our traps. If monitoring systems are used beyond the trap in places such as inspection aisles, between pallets, or in possible runways, we can use these systems to monitor the whole building and identify rodents before they’re trapped.
Added Value. Ultimately, we are professionals at what we do. These remote monitoring systems cannot and should not replace a thorough inspection and service. Instead, they should be used to supplement our services. By monitoring the whole building and allowing for technician time to be spent more wisely by investigating, inspecting and treating, the client receives even better service than before.
As a former field technician, I find the idea of remote sensor monitoring systems fascinating. Never before could we tell a client a mouse had been caught in a certain area of a facility before performing the service. Never before could we get such a head start on a rodent infestation or know one exists even before one is caught. Never before could we trust that an area was rodent-free without performing an inspection. The possibilities are almost limitless with this technology and it will certainly be a driving force in the pest industry for the foreseeable future.
Taylor is a board certified entomologist and graduate from the University of Florida, with a B.S. in entomology, urban pest management. He is a member of the Copesan Technical Committee, and is technical director for Plunkett’s Pest Control, Fridley, Minn. Kirby has a master’s degree in adult education from the University of Minnesota and a B.S. in wildlife ecology — natural resources from the University of Wisconsin. She is the training coordinator at Plunkett’s.