Nov 03 2014

Chicago Leverages 311 and Big Data to Tackle Its Rat Problems

The Windy City is using Big Data and predictive analytics to tackle a pressing urban problem — rats.

The city of Chicago is home to many things, amazing hot dogs, deep dish pizza and a classic ballpark. But few would suspect that the city is also a hotbed of innovation for technology-infused rat management. The unique intersection of these two staples of Chicago’s urban landscape was brought to light by Brenna Berman, Chicago’s CIO, at the Internet of Things World Forum, held in Chicago last month.

Speaking on a panel discussing IoT in the public sector, Berman spoke briefly on one of Chicago’s first data analytics projects: the Automated Preventive Rodent Baiting Program. This recently completed pilot program was deemed a success.

“We saw a 20 percent improvement in the delivery of rodent abatement services,” affirms Molly Poppe, spokeswoman for Chicago’s Department of Streets and Sanitation.

The pilot, developed in conjunction with Chicago’s Department of Innovation and Technology, couldn’t have come at a better time for the budget-strapped city. The recent “polar vortex” winter proved too cold even for the rats, producing a spike in calls to area pest abatement services. This predictive analytics project, launched in October 2013, takes data from Chicago’s 311 city service program and analyzes 31 different service request data points, such as calls about broken water mains or missed garbage delivery. A schedule is then created from this data and provided to Streets and Sanitation’s rodent abatement teams. This schedule guides the timing and location of their baiting services.

The data allows us to look forward seven days, predicting where infestations will likely happen,” Poppe explains. “Rather than reacting to infestations, we are able to get out ahead of them.”

Having access to the 311 data and being able to comb it for indicators of future rodent problems frees up administrators in Streets and Sanitation from this scheduling task and gets them out in the wards with their crews – the ideal scenario for this kind of service-deliver agency. The project has proven so successful that it has now been expanded so that all of the department’s rodent abatement crews will be making use of the analytics-driven schedule.