Nov 26 2014

The Urban War on Rats Is a Problem Big Data Can Solve

More cities are using 311 data as part of a multipronged approach to predict and thwart rat infestations.

At least three northeastern cities are tapping the power of Big Data to thwart an urban issue that plagues many big cities: rats.

Earlier this month StateTech shared Chicago’s approach to rat infestations. The city launched a predictive analytics project in 2013 that uses 311 call data about broken water mains or missed garbage delivery to guide the timing and location of rodent abatement services.

Other cities, including Baltimore, Md., and Somerville, Mass., have followed suit.

In Somerville, the war on rats is a multipronged approach that includes data, temporary financial assistance for residents who cannot afford rodent control services, a rodent fertility management pilot program and rodent-resistant trash carts for every resident.

The city uses 311 data to create heat maps that show where rat-related calls are concentrated. Based on the location, officials try to determine the source of the problem, whether it’s a residential trash issue or the fact that the area is located in a high-density commercial district, says Steve Craig, director of constituent services. Analyst cross-reference that data with other trends to determine what solutions seem to be combating the rat problem. The city also established a Rodent Action Team.

Somerville has seen a steady decrease in rat-related calls since 2012, when the city received 698 calls (the highest number of any year since 2008). That number decreased to 678 in 2013 and, so far, appears to be dropping again. The city has received 428 calls this year.

Craig says it’s hard to pinpoint what had the greatest impact on the decrease in rat calls. It’s also possible that some residents aren’t making calls, but receiving fewer calls is a good sign.

Baltimore recently launched a rat-abatement strategy that relies on 311 data, according to the online news site Public works employees will use the data to target their time and resources.

“We understand where these 311 calls are coming in from the past, so we should be able to predict the migration of the rat populations, and try to stay ahead in terms of managing that population,” said City Public Works Director Rudolph Chow.

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