Rats, Rodents and 311 Data

Let’s talk about rats, since this is a topic that may not be discussed often — but is important to any city or town.

What city is the “rat capital”? This, of course, depends on the source. In April 2019, according to Autotrap.com, Chicago is the top dog, or in this case, the top rat. Trailing behind are Los Angeles, New York City, Washington D.C. and San Francisco. Honorable mentions go to those cities scurrying to the top: Detroit, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Baltimore, and Denver.

It is not a secret that rats are city dwellers, urbanites. As long as there are people, there will be rats. And as long as there are rats, calls to 311 will not decline. As a matter of fact, 311 data plays a crucial role in the war against rats.

How are rats surviving, thriving and multiplying?

Economic development and gentrification mean more residents and restaurants, resulting in more food opportunities for rats to feast. Also, rats take advantage of human and city mishaps such as inadequate waste disposal and easy access to shelter. The combination of warmer winters and rapid reproduction cycles is only adding more fuel to the fire. For instance, rats can produce nearly a half a billion descendants in three years according to Dr. Any Brigham, general technical manager, Science and Service at Rentokil Initial.

“A female rat typically births six litters a year consisting of 12 rat pups, although 5—10 pups is more common. Rats reach sexual maturity after 4—5 weeks, meaning that a population can swell from two rats to around 1,250 in one year, with the potential to grow exponentially.”

Who can forget the famous “pizza rat” — the YouTube star carrying a slice of pizza in an NYC subway that went viral with over 10 million views?

In May 2019, on” The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” the comedian had a laugh mimicking a call to NYC311. This was a very funny rat tale shout-out to 311 and a response to NYC experiencing a 38% increase in rat calls.

All jokes aside, there isn’t anything funny about the variety of diseases associated with rats. Additionally, rats can cause structural damage to virtually any type of building through gnawing and underground burrows damage sidewalks. The total municipal economic cost of rat damage is nearly $19 billion annually.

Call volume to 311 is the source for data-driven decisions and measurement of success in curbing the city rat race.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $32 million, multi-agency plan to reduce the city’s rat population focuses on managing waste with stricter regulations and more frequent trash pick up. Another major component is public solar compactors with a “mail-box” opening to prevent rats from entering.

Washington uses D.C.’s 311 data to pinpoint rat hotspots on their Rat Map. In 2017 D.C began comparing 311 rat calls with other city data, including the number of registered food businesses and apartments.

Baltimore’s Department of Public Works (DPW) boasted that its “proactive inspections” have not only driven down rat-related 311 calls, but have also decreased the number of “identified rat burrows” by 1,554.

Sometimes cities need rat advice from a rodentologist.

Dr. Bobby Corrigan is the rat guru and rock star expert on rats. Recently, Corrigan and Mayor Joseph Curtatone of Somerville, MA hit the streets to gauge rat-ability. Curtatone got a lesson on rat 101 with interesting tips and advice. On NPR, Corrigan stated he prefers dry ice carbon dioxide abatement. It is considered the more humane method because rats just go to sleep and never wake up.

On a serious note, even with municipal efforts, if there is ample food, water and shelter then rats will continue to flourish.

As long as there are people the war on rats is never-ending. So the question begs, is this a rat problem or a people problem?

Janice Quintana is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. A government nerd, customer service practitioner and 311 pioneer, she has worked in local government as the Director of 311 in three different municipalities. She is fascinated with innovation, technology, data, service delivery and community engagement. When Janice is not following local government rock stars or trends she enjoys her status as a tennis enthusiast and travels the globe to watch a good match. She currently lives in Charlotte, NC with her two chihuahuas. You can read her posts here.

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Avatar photo Blake Martin

Speaking from experience as a DC resident, 311 has been an incredible resource in our neighborhood for relaying information/data on infestations as they occur. I’ve really enjoyed learning about all of the benefits of a strong 311 initiative from your posts.